East Lansing Public Schools find strategies to bridge achievement gap

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Michigan State University education professor Dr. Dorinda Carter-Andrews on the achievement gap results in East Lansing Public Schools. Carter-Andrews has been working with the district since 2007 to find new ways on how district members can narrow the gap.

By Camille Douglas
Entirely East Lansing

Pinecrest Elementary’s Title I reading teacher, Sarah Colechin, makes sure to meet with each of her students individually each week to see where they need extra help.

Colechin’s job, supported by federal funds, is to help first through third graders struggling in academics to help close the “achievement gap.”

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

According to Colechin, in her experience, the majority of students performing below average in the school district typically consist of students of color, students coming from a lower-income background, and boys.

As her way of closing the achievement gap, Colechin believes developing a teacher-to-student relationship is key.

Since she began her career at Pinecrest six years ago, Colechin has seen a huge improvement in motivating her students to succeed.

“The key is to really show your students that you are there for them,” Colechin said. “I think every teacher can spend a minute or two once every week one-on-one with their students to check in and reassure them that you are there to help them. Showing that you care for their success can go a long way in motivating them to do well.”

On March 10, the school district saw an improvement in bridging the achievement gap in East Lansing High School when the school was released from the state of Michigan list of institutions that had large achievement gaps between their best and worst performing students. The only remaining East Lansing school on the list is Donley Elementary.

East Lansing High School social studies teacher Bob Filter believes that the new high school program dedicated to getting more students ready for college will help close some of the school’s achievement gap.

The program, known as AVID, stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and was launched at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. Students participating in the program learn how to improve organizational, comprehensive and social skills, all while furthering their core education.

“AVID helps those who are having some trouble with academics by placing more of a focus and attention on them. We work with each student one-on-one and in small groups to pinpoint where and how we can help them improve,” Filter said. “The goal of it is to ultimately close the achievement gap in districts, and in order to see more improvements, I think AVID needs to become a district-wide program. ”

The school district has also started trying to find new ways on how to further bridge the achievement gap in all schools. On March 29, the district hosted an event, “Looking Beyond the ‘Achievement Gap’: Building Equitable Learning Community for All Students,” that featured a panel of six Michigan State University education professors. Dr. Dorinda Carter-Andrews was one of the panelists who provided her input on how the district can close the achievement gap.

Carter-Andrews has been dedicated to researching different strategies in bridging the achievement gap in East Lansing Public Schools since early 2007.

In 2010, Carter-Andrews helped initiate the East Lansing Public Schools Achievement Gap Task Force whose duty was to collaboratively research and discover solutions on fixing the gap, with a focus on African American students and low socioeconomic students. Unfortunately, the task force has not be active since 2011 due to changes in superintendents.

Despite the task force’s inactivity, Carter-Andrews has presented at several Board of Education meetings throughout the past couple of years to address the concerns of the achievement gap.

“The first step to the process I tell anyone of trying to help close the gap involves significant collaboration between school district teachers, parent groups and the students,” Carter-Andrews said. “If there were more communication between these groups, then we would be on the right track to solving this issue.”

Carter-Andrew’s solution to bridging the achievement gap focuses on a five-step recommendation.

Dr. Carter Andrews info

According to superintendent Robyne Thompson, the school district has been working with Carter-Andrews and other MSU faculty members in reducing the achievement gap. School board member Karen Hoene hopes that the district will continue to work with the MSU staff members.

“This is a problem that exists in every school district, and I think that working with experts who have studied the achievement gap can help advance the district,” Hoene said. “It will be a lot of work, but we have already started seeing results.”

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