East Lansing Public Schools discuss how to reduce the achievement gap

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By Camille Douglas
Entirely East Lansing

Dr. David Stroupe

MSU teacher education professors Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers (left) and Dr. David Stroupe (right) were two of six panelists that offered opinions regarding how to close the achievement gap in the East Lansing school district. Photo by Camille Douglas.

EAST LANSING – Teachers’ relationships with students can play a major role in helping low-achieving students catch up with their peers, participants in a panel on the achievement gap said this week.

Title I reading teacher Sarah Colechin at Pinecrest elementary believes in this idea that developing a teacher-to-student relationship is key to helping students improve their education performance.

As a Title I teacher, she was employed by the federal government, not the district, to work with students in grades first through third that are falling behind in academics. Since the beginning of her career at Pinecrest elementary six years ago, Colechin has seen a huge improvement in motivating her students to succeed academically.

“It’s really all about showing your students that you care for each one of them,” Colechin said. “They need to know that you are there for them. For some, you may be their only support system.”

Titled, “Looking Beyond the ‘Achievement Gap’: Building an Equitable Learning Community for All Students,” the event on Tuesday, March 29, discussed how members of the school district could encourage students to improve academically and potentially reduce the achievement gap. Colechin offered her advice on how teachers can help work towards closing the gap.

“I wanted to show other faculty members tonight that it just takes a little effort, encouragement and some time spent talking to each student to understand where they are coming from and how they are doing academically,” Colechin said.

The achievement gap measures and compares the academic differences in the performances between groups of students. Groups are generally categorized by economic status, race/ethnicity and by gender.

The event featured a panel of six Michigan State University teacher education professors. Each member, in 5-7 minute informative talks, lectured about the meaning of the “achievement gap” and offered research-based plans on how the district could build an equitable learning community for all students.

Concerned teachers, students, parents and other community members filed into a small conference room in East Lansing High School to hear the two-hour long discussion.

“It is vital that districts are constantly trying to find ways to close the achievement gap as it concerns students’ educational success,” panelist and MSU teacher education professor Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers said in the discussion.

In a consensus agreement, the panelists concurred that the achievement gap in East Lansing, like in many other surrounding districts, generally consist of aspects such as students facing economic challenges, students struggling with a mental illness, and students of color.

Following the panelists’ talks, the floor was opened to discussion that furthered addressed the areas of concerns about the achievement gap the panelists’ remarks highlighted.

Some ideas discussed regarded what the achievement gap defines, how teachers can structure their instruction reduce the gap and how to reduce racial stereotyping in the gap.

East Lansing High School junior Matthew Setsema also addressed the panel about how he, as a student, could help motivate those he notices in class may be having difficulties academically. Setsema feels that some teachers are not putting enough attention on these students.

“There are some problems with how the faculty also handle things. They talk about how they want what’s best for the students, but they never come and ask us what can be improved,” Setsema said. “As a student who cares also about the other classmates, I want to find out how I can personally help with motivating someone and help them succeed.”

According to superintendent Robyne Thompson, the school district has been working with the MSU faculty members in reducing the achievement gap. Panelist and MSU teacher education professor Dr. David Stroupe, hopes that the district continues to work him and his other colleagues.

“Going forth, there needs to be a continuous collaboration between the East Lansing school district and our professors,”Stroupe said in the discussion. “It will take a lot of dedication and work between both groups to begin to see some progress in closing the achievement gap.”

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