Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

PARCC Results Show Achievement Gap Persists; Ficarra Says Gains Will Come Soon

A review of state testing results from the 2017-18 school year at last night’s South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting showed a continued, significant gap in achievement between black and white students.

The news did not go over well with BOE members, but Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra said that changes underway in the district now should lead to better results by next year.

Board of Education 2nd vice president Madhu Pai saw one of the few bright spots, saying that, if one looked at the data in terms of cohorts — following the same students as they moved from grade to grade — incremental progress could be seen in closing the gap.

However, BOE member Susie Adamson called the results “depressing.”

“While there may be some moderate gains in some of the subgroups …,” said Adamson, “I am not remotely satisfied with the gains we have made.” Adamson added, “I am disappointed once again.”

Nonetheless, Adamson noted that she was hopeful about changes underway.

BOE member Johanna Wright sounded less hopeful: “How does our reading curriculum impact our results? Can we be doing something different with the curriculum? You do the same things you get the same results.”

Ficarra was insistent that changes in data collection as well as instruction and intervention were happening and would lead to different results next year. Ficarra referred to Director of Special Services Dr. Laura Morana’s presentation from the August BOE meeting (see slides below or watch here at the 45 minute mark) that detailed reading instructional approaches (including Orton Gillingham) and other early interventions for students. (Dr. Morana also explained how children who would benefit from additional support would be identified and supported at a meeting on July 30. Read the News-Record’s report here.)

Ficarra also said that the data warehouse — which is coming in October — would lead to better data collection as well as the use of the data for “informed instruction,” where students’ needs are identified and teaching can be targeted to those needs.

The conversation centered around results for PARCC testing in spring 2018, as presented by Dr. Kalisha Morgan, who is currently the Interim Principal of Columbia High School. The results (see Morgan’s slide presentation below) show that, while the difference in performance by white and black students had closed slightly in some instances, large gaps of 37% to 50% continued to persist across English language arts and math in all grades that participated in testing.

Board President Elizabeth Baker also referenced Dr. Morana’s August presentation that focused on “identifying students with learning issues earlier” in response to Wright’s concerns that not enough was being done to address elementary school literacy.

“I don’t think the data warehouse is going to fix this,” said Wright. “It’s difficult for me to swallow.”

Ficarra said that more progress had not been made on closing the gap in his first year as interim because he faced numerous crises coming into the district — including writing 143 missing curriculums, drafting the facilities plan, and working to pass QSAC.

“It would be helpful in communications to the public to put in writing what you’ve done,” said Adamson. “It’s hard to connect the dots. … We need to communicate this to the public.”

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