Less than 20% of Rochester's Black, Hispanic students are proficient in math, opposed to 50% of white, Asian students
"We have a lot of work to do," said Brenda Wichmann, executive director of curriculum and instruction.
There are more than 2,600 Black students in Rochester's public school system, and only 17.2% of them are proficient in math. Hispanic students scored even lower, coming in at 15.8% proficient in math.
White and Asian students, by comparison, each registered at approximately 50% proficient in math, more than 30 percentage points higher than their Black and Hispanic counterparts.
Although the pandemic took a toll on all students, administrators are still focused on closing the achievement gap between different sub-groups. Brenda Wichmann, executive director of curriculum and instruction, spoke about the issue at the school board meeting on Dec. 7, describing where the various groups stand along a number of metrics.
"We have a lot of work to do," Wichmann said. "Everything we do is to reduce that achievement gap. We know in Minnesota, it's larger than anywhere else, and in Rochester, we reflect what it looks like in Minnesota."
Overall, Rochester's student population is an increasingly diverse community. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the district's student population is 56.3% white, 15% Black, 9.6% Asian, 11.4% Hispanic, and 7.3% students of two or more races.
Some individual schools are far more diverse than others. At Gage Elementary, for example, 32.7% of the student population is white, 26.3% is Black, nearly 20% is Hispanic and just over 11% is Asian.
However, that high level of diversity has not corresponded with academic achievement for all groups.
In 2021, the percentage of white students proficient in reading was 60.7%. That compared with 30% of Black students, 56.1% of Asian students, 27.3% of Hispanic students, and 48.9% of students of two or more races. The overall rate for Minnesota students was 52.5%.
The percentage of white students proficient in math was 49.4%. That compared with 17.2% of Black students, 50.2% of Asian students, 15.8% of Hispanic students, and 35.3% of students of two or more races. The overall rate for Minnesota students was 44.2%.
Wichmann outlined a number of goals for the district. One is to increase the score of subgroups by 2% on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments each year, "with the long-term goal of being at or above the state average of all students."
For the four-year graduation rate, she said the goal is to be at or above the 2019 rate, which was: 87.8% of white students, 65.7% of Black students, 79.5% of Asian students and nearly 80% of Hispanic students.
Board member Julie Workman said she appreciated the gradual approach to the goals.
"One of the things I really like about this is we're looking for improvement in relatively small steps," Workman said. "We all remember the joy of No Child Left Behind and 100% of kids were going to be proficient by 2014, which was overwhelming and didn't work."
Board member Don Barlow took the opposite opinion, saying that a 2% improvement for Black students that are only 17.2% proficient in math and 30% proficient in reading is not enough progress.
Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel said the improvement goals are only meant for the context of a pandemic and a time of transition.
"I agree completely: 2% incremental improvement at a 17% proficiency rate would be educational malpractice to sustain," Pekel said. "This is a transition strategy, very explicitly... this would be wholly inadequate for a long-term improvement agenda."