Minorities' test scores become a major goal for the first time

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Sunday, August 14, 2011
— School officials will tell you they always have worked to improve the academic performance of students, including minority students.

But the performance of blacks and Hispanics who attend Janesville public schools always lags behind that of other students.

That's the norm in districts around the country, but Janesville schools Superintendent Karen Schulte has set course to change things here.

Schulte might have been content with the fact that Janesville's black and Hispanic students meet the expectations of the No Child Left Behind law. They're also doing better than their black and Hispanic peers statewide, on average.

Not good enough, Schulte told the school board July 26.

Schulte asked the board to rate her on whether she and her staff improve test performance for minority students.

"It's not as though we haven't done anything for black and Hispanic students, but this is a concerted effort," Schulte said last week.

Setting a formal goal has consequences in the board's Journey to Excellence process. Schulte is rated on six sets of goals, each one reduced to a number. The better her numbers, the more incentive pay she gets, up to as much as $10,000 a year.

From the start of her tenure, Schulte has made a point of recruiting minority teachers and administrators. She has continued minority-outreach programs put in place by her predecessor, even in the face of severe budget difficulties.

But the new goal takes her commitment a step further.

Because it's Schulte's goal, it becomes the goal for the rest of the district's administrators. The theory is that what gets measured is what gets done.

When Schulte asked the school board to add this goal, she asked that the previous goal of improving scores for all students be taken off her evaluation.

The district would continue to work on academic achievement for all, Schulte said, even though that wasn't one of her formal goals.

School board members said they believed her, but they kept the overall goal in place.

If Schulte and her staff know they're being measured based on that goal, then that goal will remain at the forefront, school board member Peter D. Severson said.

Schulte's team already has improved test scores. Their goal for the past two years was to improve the district's average reading and math percentages by two points. They did that for math. For reading, the percentage rose three points.

If the minority test results improve as planned, they'll still lag behind that of white students, Schulte acknowledged.

But this is just a start.

"We want to trend in that direction," Schulte said, but it'll take longer than two years to close the gap.

Schulte's two lead administrators in this area are Kim Ehrhardt, the director of instruction, who works to improve teaching and test scores, and Yolanda Cargile, who oversees socials workers and youth advocates. Cargile is director of at-risk and multicultural programs.

Both directors said they believe they can reach the goal without shifting resources away from students who aren't black or Hispanic.

"Perhaps we need to do things a little bit different for some of those subgroups," Ehrhardt said, but the overall approach is to focus on all students.

Tactics are the same for students of all kinds. They include testing to see whether students mastered key concepts and then re-teaching those who didn't get it the first time.

Meanwhile, students who mastered the concepts can study the material in richer detail, Ehrhardt said.

Key to improving scores are the district's grant-funded after-school programs, where students can get extra help, Ehrhardt said.

Parents should not worry that resources will be pulled away from their children, Ehrhardt said, because the district has a responsibility to educate all students.

"But if you're having a couple players on the team who can't shoot free throws, you're going to have them shoot free throws while other members of the team work on other competencies," Ehrhardt said.

Cargile said her social workers and youth advocates will review test data to know what they're up against. Their task is to motivate and empower students to stay after school and get the help they need from teachers, for example.

Teachers will be asked to make sure their students are being invited to get the help they need, Cargile said.

All the staff will be able to recite the test data for the students they work with, and they will know what their bosses' goals are, Cargile said

Cargile acknowledged that the new goal comes at a time when the district is losing resources through budget cuts, but she said tasks are being reassigned, and the schools are moving forward.

"We can't sit around and say, 'We can't do this' or 'We can't do that,'" Cargile said.

"That's not an option when you're dealing with children."


The Janesville School Board's new goals for improving state test results:

All students

-- Raise the reading score* from 85 percent in tests taken in 2010 to 86 percent in 2011 (results reported in 2012.)

-- Raise the math score from 80 percent in 2010 to 81 percent in 2011.

Hispanic students

-- Raise the reading score from 79 percent in 2010 to 81 percent in 2012 (results reported in 2013.)

-- Raise the math score from 75 percent to 77 percent.

Black students

-- Raise the reading score from 75 percent in 2010 to 77 percent in 2012.

-- Raise the math score from 63 percent to 65 percent.

*"Score" refers to the percentage of students rated "proficient" or "advanced" on their tests.

Note: The goals for minority students are to be accomplished in two years because of the short time between the setting of the goals this summer and the first round of tests this fall. The goals for all students are set for a one-year improvement because this is the second time that district-wide goals have been set. The goals for all students were set for two years on the first go-around.

Last updated: 6:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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