Astoria School District’s students often perform better than the state average, said Superintendent Craig Hoppes. But like with other districts nationwide, there remains an achievement gap, in Astoria with Hispanics and low-income students.
“It’s more of an opportunity gap than it is an achievement gap,” said Hoppes, updating the Astoria School Board on the issue Wednesday. “We have some kids who don’t have the opportunities of other kids.”
Both the district and the school board have made creating an equitable environment for all students a long-term goal.
Curriculum director Melissa Linder brought forth a study on the achievement gap in Astoria, with the help of the Oregon Department of Education’s second-annual Kindergarten Assessment, made public Wednesday.
“We’re trying to level the playing field so everyone starts at the same point,” said Linder.
Hispanic and lower-income students have similar and sometimes better rates of attendance to their piers, said Linder, but they still start school with fewer language and mathematics skills then their peers. Hispanic-speaking kindergartners in the kindergarten assessment knew a small fraction of the letters in their native language that their English-speaking peers did.
“We know that the quicker they have literacy in their language, the better they are at acquiring English,” said Linder.
As English as a Second Language (ESL) students struggle to learn English, staff often lack the Spanish skills to best help them.
The district, which currently removes ESL students to a separate class to work on English, is forming a plan to embed bilingual ESL staff in several targeted multilingual classrooms including students learning English. Linder said the effort wouldn’t take any additional staffing and has good buy-in from existing employees, who would train over the summer for the arrangement.
“This could have the biggest impact on us as a district,” said Hoppes, pointing toward bilingualism as an increasing priority in hiring.
There’s a broad spectrum of literacy at home regardless of the language, she said, and there are students in Hispanic-speaking families doing fine. The district needs to figure out why. The district hopes to provide training in English for parents and in Spanish for teachers.
The district first needs to create a strategic plan, one of the school board’s goals from last year, focusing on equitable — as opposed to identical — educational approaches for students facing different challenges. Hoppes said the district hopes to finish the strategic plan, which will frame its other efforts, by April.
After the strategic plan is complete, the district will focus more on the achievement compact. The district wants a quick fix to the problem, said Hoppes, but the more realistic time line is six to 10 years to address systemic problems that often leave some many Hispanic and low-income students behind.
According to the Oregon Education Investment Board’s report “Equity Lens,” students of color comprise 30 percent of enrollment in Oregon K-12. Putting the issue into a larger context, Hoppes referenced a statement from the report on the economic impacts of the issue: “The persistent educational disparities have cost Oregon billions of dollars in lost economic output and these losses are compounded every year we choose not to properly address these inequalities.”