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 Achievement Gap Task Force Praised

Leaders and board members of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) applauded last month a growing countywide effort to eliminate opportunity gaps.

The effort, the Achievement Gap Task Force, is a collaborative effort spearheaded by the San Diego County Office of Education.

At the December CCEE meeting, County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Randy Ward and San Marcos Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Holt led a presentation about the countywide collaboration.

From nine districts in 2003 to all 42 school districts in the county, the Achievement Gap Task Force has worked to eliminate the opportunity gap that exists for traditionally underserved students.

Calling it an opportunity gap, Ward said, removes excuses surrounding student ability and places the focus on opportunities to succeed.

"'Opportunity gap' recognizes there are issues in our system and our mindset that create barriers for students, particularly for underserved students," Ward said.

Only 26 percent of current San Diego County 7th graders will complete post-secondary education, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That means that nearly 30,000 7th graders will slip through the cracks on their way through high school and to a two- or four-year post-high school degree.

"It's staggering to think we will have children leave high school and make less than $20,000 a year. It's hard to swallow," Holt said.

In order to combat that possibility, the Achievement Gap Task Force also includes county, union, and university leadership as well as chambers of commerce representatives.

Together, the task force has researched and adopted cutting-edge best practices and gathered student suggestions to ensure college and career readiness is equally available to all students.

One example of SDCOE's support of the task force's efforts is transcript auditing for school districts. County Office staff members comb through the transcripts of all students in a grade or grades to identify an opportunity gap for underrepresented students.

"There was a theory that every child has equal opportunities, that we prepare all students for post-secondary opportunities. But when you really look, not every child has that," Holt said of his own district's audit.

The student demographics of the schools were not represented in honors and AP classes, he said. Now, he said, his district has changed the way course options are presented to students

Ward said there is a waiting list of school districts eager to undergo a transcript audit or "opportunity analysis."

"This is very important work," said CCEE Board Member Michael C. Watkins. "I'm glad you're taking this work on."

CCEE was established to provide advice and assistance to local education agencies in the wake of the adoption of Local Control and Accountability Plans.