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 Achievement Gap Task Force Reports Progress In Closing Gap, Despite School Budget Cuts

​Efforts to close the achievement gap between students of different ethnic and socio-economic groups are paying off, but school leaders warned that such improvements probably won’t continue if state support for public schools continues to shrink.

At the seventh annual news conference of the Superintendents’ Achievement Gap Task Force, County Superintendent of Schools Randy Ward said, “The fact that students and schools have recorded this kind of achievement, while at the same time enduring record-setting budget cuts, can not be glossed over. We can’t expect progress to continue in the face of these kind of budget cuts.”

Task Force Chair Don Phillips, Superintendent of the Poway Unified School District, identified several grade-level and subject-area tests that showed a narrowing of the achievement gap. In particular, Phillips cited the percentage of 8th graders scoring proficient or better on the California Standards Test for algebra.

Algebra is considered a “gatekeeper” for higher level math, Phillips said, and the percentage of San Diego County 8th graders scoring proficient or above increased from 42 to 56 percent between 2005 and 2009.

Breaking down the county’s entire population of 8th graders by ethnicity, Phillips reported the greatest growth in that time was achieved by African American and Latino students, who increased their percentage scoring proficient or above by 68 and 54 percent, respectively.

Phillips said he was encouraged about the future by comments he heard at the recent Salute to Teachers, the County Teacher of the Year awards show on October 10. “What I heard at Salute,” Phillips said, “and it was so powerful, is the sense of belief that each and every child can achieve, and that our teachers are not going to give up on one, single student.”

Shayne Kelley, a student at the Kearny High School of International Business, also spoke at the news conference and embodied Phillips’ remarks. Admittedly unmotivated early in his high school years, Kelley said, “I used to think homework was just something teachers gave students to ruin their lives.”

More recently, Kelley told the TV news crews and school leaders, he made a picket sign that read, “School of International Business, Where A+ Doesn’t Cut It.” The sign was only partly in jest, he said, and he’s glad the school has such high expectations for students.

Kelley, who was introduced at the news conference by Kearny School of International Business Principal Ana Diaz-Booz, plans to study foreign language and psychology in college, and he concluded his remarks a the news conference by telling attendees to have a nice day in Japanese, Vietnamese and English.

Also taking part in the news conference was Bill Kowba, Interim Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District, who outlined several initiatives in his districts that are helping struggling students.

San Diego County School Boards Association President Kelli Moors, a member of the Carlsbad Unified School District Board of Trustees, told the assemblage of the role of school boards in closing the achievement gap.

And Matthew Tessier, Principal of Harborside Elementary School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, spoke about the powerful and collaborative efforts that have taken place at his school to raise achievement.