It’s becoming painfully obvious at this point: Poor and minority students have a harder time getting to class and performing in school.
The Astoria School District and its board of directors, recognizing this trend, have codified in their respective goals an effort to lessen the achievement gap and related attendance problems.
The achievement gap goal is one of four other district goals, which include improving the health and wellness of the district’s students, improving the evaluation of certified staff (teachers). It’s also one of the school board’s goals, along with creating a strategic plan for the district, increasing communication to the public regarding goals and improving the school board’s visibility; school and community engagement; and communication. The goals, said Superintendent Craig Hoppes, are usually adopted in September.
“Astoria School District will implement a plan that will provide strategies, resources and priorities to narrow the identified achievement gap of students in the Astoria School District (Students in Poverty and Hispanic Students),” reads one of the school board’s goals.
Economically disadvantaged students posted 10 percent lower four-year graduation rates than the overall student population in Astoria in 2012-13, its most recent district report card. But they managed similar five-year completion rates at nearly 70 percent. Hispanic/Latino students also posted a 4 percent lower graduation rate, along with lower completion rates.
“When you look at our school report card, we scored high in test scores, but we’re struggling with graduation rate,” said Astoria High School Principal Lynn Jackson.
The district hired Melissa Linder as a districtwide curriculum director, and Hoppes said she’s heading up much of the effort to tackle the gap. Hoppes said he’s talking with her to try and find state Title II-A funding, which focuses in increasing the number of quality teachers to boost student achievement, to throw at a plan.
At the Sept. 10 school board meeting, said Hoppes, there will be a report on the district’s achievement gap and efforts to address it. He hopes to have a plan in place by January.
“The economically disadvantaged are the ones not coming to school as much,” said Jackson about another aspect in improving the achievement gap: making sure students are at school, on time and learning.
“We’re not fixing it young enough,” said Brian Ploghoft, principal of Lewis and Clark Elementary School. “Unfortunately, it goes back to Astor (Elementary) and Lewis and Clark.”
That’s when parents have control over kids, say administrators, who may do alright early but start falling off significantly in performance by the fifth grade.
“A lot of those kids that are chronically absent are bright kids,” said Ploghoft, adding that in fifth grade is when the performance of chronically absent students starts significantly falling off.
At the high school level, said Vice Principal Chad Madsen, parents might want the kids to be at school, but students often cut class, and parents often lack control. “We’re trying to figure out why they choose not to come to class.”
The district calls parents every time there’s an absence and aggregates tardies into absences. It has policies in place that range from notification of parents all the way to contact by truancy officer and a citation in court. But Ploghoft said the process creates animosity at every level, and savvy parents realize they don’t have to pay the citations they receive.
“I’ve got ideas, but we can’t do much more without money,” said Ploghoft.
Members of the school board asked him what he could do with some more funding, and Ploghoft detailed ideas to create home liaisons, maybe parents who can visit with families and talk about the issues they face could receive a stipend. “When I call, it doesn’t go far, because I’m the bad guy,” he said.
Board member Jenna Rickenbach said she has a friend doing it who says it helps a lot, and board member Shawn Helligso said Head Start, where his wife works in Warrenton, uses a similar concept in preschool.