Closing the Gap
Defining the Challenge:
Greenville County public schools are working to improve the academic achievement of all students. One major challenge is the achievement gap between groups of students from families with varying income levels and/or from different ethnic groups. This is especially important as the number of minority students and students from low-income families continues to increase. Targeted efforts are needed to improve the achievement of lower-performing students, while continuing to raise the academic performance of all students.
With the approval of the Education Plan three years ago, the Board of Trustees declared "closing the achievement gap" between white and minority students as a top priority. The Board's commitment to all students is clearly evident with the Education Plan and their bold and unprecedented decisions to improve teaching and learning.
"Closing the achievement gap" is defined as raising the academic performance of ALL students by implementing targeted strategies to address the needs of different schools and groups of students. I find little disagreement that achievement gaps exist in our schools. The performance gap between white and black students has existed for decades. The challenge has expanded to include an increasing number of non-English speaking students, as well as an increasing percentage of students from low-income families.
Many research-based factors impact the disparity in achievement - a family's socio-economic level, parents' education levels (especially the mother), pre-kindergarten intellectual and physical stimulation, access to health-based services, and whether a student has to move from one school to another during the school year, to mention a few.
Targeted financial support follows the foundation on which our closing the gap strategies are based - improving school leadership and teacher quality in our lower achieving schools. For example, only a small percentage of teachers are content certified in many middle schools that graded "unsatisfactory" on their recent school report card. In contrast, most teachers are content certified in our "excellent" and "above average" middle schools. This wide variance of teacher quality is being addressed through certification courses and tuition reimbursement.
We are working hard to close the achievement gap. The Teaching and Learning staff is working hard yearly to identify the achievement gaps by analyzing data and working with schools that have the largest gaps to develop specific strategies to close them. Professional development is offered year round to teachers and administration in order to improve all student performance.
District efforts are beginning to realize positive results at the elementary school level. Since 1995, on a first grade readiness assessment, the gap between white and black students has been reduced by over 50%. This gap is expected to decrease further with the recent expansion of our Early Childhood Program.