Teacher targets achievement gap

Progress Staff WriterJuly 11, 2014 

Two-year-old Reagan Crouser of O’Fallon stopped by the face-painting booth during the O’Town 5th of July Block Party to have a butterfly painted on her face.

BY MARK RAEBER — For the Progress Buy Photo

JaRon Dent is confident that “with a little hard work, a little effort and the help of other people” Black students at O’Fallon Township High School (OTHS) can achieve academically at the level of their White counterparts.

And he wants to develop programs at the school to help them do that.

In spite of numerous efforts over the years to address a persistent achievement gap that sets its Black students apart, OTHS struggles to find a formula that can successfully close the fissure. The district’s 2013 school report card showed a 30 point difference between the percentage of

White students and the percentage of Black students who met or exceeded the state’s learning standards in reading on the Prairie State Achievement Exam. The gaps in math and science were nearly 45 points.

Dent, a special education teacher at OTHS who also is Black, brought his worries about the achievement gap to the Dist. 203 school board and to Superintendent Darcy Benway, Ed.D., this spring. And he asked their help in trying to develop programs to address the problem.

“My biggest worry is that we are actually losing these kids,” Dent said.

“We have a population of students who are falling behind academically,” he noted. “They are low achievers. They are lower income. They are at risk students. They don’t have the support at home. They don’t have the resources. They don’t know how to help themselves. They don’t have the confidence to go out into the real world and thrive. And they need help.

“I want to show the kids we care and that we want to help them,” Dent said. “I don’t want the taxpayers to end up having to pay for them because they don’t realize their potential and are stuck working jobs that are not meaningful and in which they can succeed and start a career.

“And I firmly believe education is the key,” he said. “If you educate yourself and expose yourself to different things you are not accustomed to you can work your way out of any situation.”

Dent said, in his effort to find solutions for the problem, he has met with Martha Weld, the high school’s curriculum coordinator, to begin a process to determine if other schools have successful programs to address the achievement gap that can be tailored to fit the needs of OTHS.

Discussing the progress toward that goal, Weld said, “I am researching programs in other places right now but I don’t want to research programs not knowing what we need so I have not done it in any depth.

“What we have started to do is target our 200 highest performing students and our 200 lowest achieving students,” she explained. “We have collected data from those 400 and we are trying to find any commonalities and any definite variations that exist between them. We want to know if there are recurring themes among the highest achieving students and among the lowest achieving students.

“And, if we have what would be a typically high-risk student who is in our highest achieving group, we are interested in segregating the data ... to see if we can isolate those variations. If so, we would like to provide opportunities to foster those traits or characteristics in our lowest achieving students,” she said.

“Right now the data gathering has taken place and we are entering it into a database so we can dissect it. There are quantitative portions and qualitative portions and we are looking at it from those two different aspects,” Weld said. “Once we finish that we will be able to see if there are specific programs out there that fit us or if we need to create a program for us using other programs as a guide.”

She then noted, “I can say what we have discovered is that if you ... look at the gap that occurs between our low risk students and our high risk students who are well performing what we have found is that interventions we have put into place are causing a shift to occur. The students who are starting off as our low achieving students start performing better over time when they are here.

“So we have closed the gap. But a gap still exists,” she said.

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