In spite of the challenges the education system has experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, Rochester Public Schools is pushing forward with its effort to eliminate the achievement gap among students by 2025.
Closing the achievement gap is one of five goals Rochester Public Schools has as part of the World's Best Workforce initiative, which was passed in 2013. It's meant to make sure school districts are doing what they can to increase student outcomes.
Those five goals include making sure all students are ready for school, making sure all third-grade students achieve grade-level literacy, closing the achievement gap between student groups, making sure all students are either career- or college-ready by graduation, and making sure that all students graduate.
"We feel really excited about a lot of the action steps that we have in place to look at closing that achievement gap," said Heather Willman, administrator of instructional coaching, secondary curriculum, and staff development.
The achievement gap for Black students during the 2018-19 year was just under 32%. That achievement gap was 36.7% for Hispanic and Latino students, and 38.6% for students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch. The district has a goal of shrinking the gap in each of those categories 10% by the end of 2020-21.
Board member Julie Workman said it's important not only to pay attention to the achievement gap, but also to the actual achievement levels of each student group. In other words, she said it's important to make sure all student groups are improving and doing well by fixed standards rather than just how they compare in relation to one another.
Brenda Wichmann, executive director of curriculum and instruction, said they do pay attention to that, which Willman spoke about as well.
"We want to make sure we're decreasing that gap, but that all student groups are making progress," Willman said.
The district’s long-term goal is to eradicate all the achievement gaps by 2025. Multiple school board members questioned whether that is a reasonable goal, considering the effect the pandemic has had on the educational system.
"I know we've had it in the past, but this is a different kind of learning year," said board member Cathy Nathan.
Wichmann responded that the state set the goal for the district and that the district is expected to reach it.
In addition to closing the achievement gap, the board also reviewed data on the other goals it has as part of the World's Best Workforce initiative.
The district has a goal for 2020-21 of increasing the percentage of students deemed "low risk" by 5%. According to data from this school year, 66.1% of kindergarten students were considered low risk in reading, and 73.7% of kindergarten students were low risk in math.
Another district goal is to increase the percentage of third graders who show reading proficiency from 54.8% in 2018-19 to 60.7% in 2020-21.
They also spoke about increasing the graduation rate. In 2019, the four-year graduation rate was 87.8% for white students, 80.3% for Black students, 92.9% for Asian students, and 79.6% for Hispanic students.
The district's goal for 2020-21 is to increase the four-year graduation rate from 85.9% to 88%. As part of that, the district also plans to have the graduation rate at or above 80% for all racial and ethnic groups by 2021.
In spite of all the metrics, Superintendent Michael Muñoz said he thinks there are some underlying flaws in the process of measuring student performance.
He went on to say that that's one of the reasons he's optimistic about the district's implementation of its new grading system called "grading for learning." According to the RPS website, grading for learning "provides multiple opportunities to demonstrate a skill throughout a course of study" and that it "focuses on a clear separation of behaviors from skill development."
"That's the whole problem with how states measure student achievement and the achievement gap," Muñoz said. "They assume every student moves at the same pace at the same time. And it doesn't work that way."