Accelerating Achievement for All: Greenwich and the Achievement Gap
William S. McKersie, Ph.D.
Superintendent, Greenwich Public Schools
April 3, 2014
Closing the achievement gap is a major concern for schools and districts nationwide. More than often discussed, the challenge is one that crosses the boundaries of public, independent and faith-based schools. Differences in achievement—as measured by various assessments, across racial, ethnic and income groups—have been a stark reality for all types of schools for generations.
Greenwich struggles as well with an achievement gap. The good news is that the vast majority of our students perform at or above the “goal” level on CT assessments. More good news is that we have been narrowing the achievement gap between and amongst our different groups of students. However, the pace of change has not been adequate—as all of us in the Greenwich Public Schools recognize. Too many of our African American and Latino students, especially those who are also from low income families, continue to perform well below the averages of our Asian and Caucasian students.
The Board of Education and administration have identified the achievement gap as a top challenge. Our shared aim is to accelerate achievement for all students. We want to simultaneously raise the performance levels of our top students and bring our lower achieving students to ever higher outcome levels. We know this is a difficult goal, attained by few districts or schools. But, this is Greenwich—we should set bold, nationally pace-setting goals.
On Thursday, April 3, 2014, the Connecticut Center for School Change presented to the Board of Education and community its report, "Closing the Achievement Gap in the Greenwich Public Schools.” The report is by an expert team from the CT Center, which the administration selected through a competitive RFP process. By design, the report is the first step in a thorough process to set coherent actions plans for addressing the achievement gap in Greenwich over the next several years.
A work group of central office and school administrators assisted the CT Center for School Change in this first round of intensive research. As the work shifts into planning and implementation, the work group will be broadened to include representatives of teachers and parents.
The report is an important read. It provides:
- National and state research on the Achievement Gap – Schools and districts have successfully closed gaps, as long as approaches are comprehensive, well-paced, persistent, research-based, and data-driven.
- New evidence-based understandings about the root causes of the Achievement Gap – The income achievement gap is now considerably larger than the race/ethnicity gap, which reverses a 50 year pattern.
- Data on the Achievement Gap in Greenwich, as indicated by aggregate student test results – Our students have narrowed the gap over the past 10 years in significant ways, and our Title 1 schools are exceeding their predicted level of performance based on the level of student need and demographics. In short, we are making progress, but it has to be accelerated.
- Observation-based analysis of our four Title 1 Schools (Hamilton Avenue, Julian Curtiss, New Lebanon and Western), presented in aggregate formats (each school has met individually with the CT Center team) – Our schools have dedicated, focused, hard working professionals, who would benefit from coherent plans and robust resources, with special attention to increasing the rigor of teaching and learning.
- Recommendations for coordinated work in six areas – We need to mount coordinated and sustained action in six areas:
1. Create affordable, high-quality preschool programs to reduce the preparation gap
2. Expand learning time beyond the normal school day and in summer to accelerate learning
3. Increase intellectual rigor demanded of students within classrooms
4. Strengthen data systems and data usage to track critical questions relative to accelerating learning
5. Create comprehensive parent and community engagement strategies
6. Consider strategies that can reduce concentration effects.
The CT Center team stresses that these are not silver bullets or easy fixes. They are challenging all of us in Greenwich to push to even higher levels of effort and accomplishment. The Center highlights much strength, but they also underscore a series of problems. We must approach this report and subsequent planning and implementation with three guiding principles:
- We must be "empathetic critical friends" – making and listening to critical commentary on our work in open and constructive ways. This is not a blaming or finger pointing exercise. Instead, it is a time for us as professionals and community members to think and act critically in order to improve teaching and learning.
- We must support each other through all planning and new work. I am committed to helping all Greenwich staff have the coherent plans and robust resources necessary to improve outcomes for all students.
- We must progress with a well considered pace. We need to accelerate the academic gains we have made in the past several years. At the same time, we must be careful to set implementation plans that are sensitive to the significant demands facing teachers and principals and that are organized and paced so that we protect against initiative overload.
Please take time to study the report. It can be found at the following link:
4/3/14 Achievement Gap Report
I look forward to working with Greenwich educators, Board members, parents and students to ensure that we accelerate learning for all our students.
April 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Accelerating Achivement for All: Greenwich and the Achievement Gap
March 4, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Smarter Balanced - Field Test: Facts & Interpretation
February 5, 2014, Superintendent's Message: A Word on the Common Core
January 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Popular Knowledge of Complex Questions
December 3, 2013, Superintendent's Message: Distinguished Reflections
November 27, 2013, Superintendent's Thanksgiving Day Message
November 12, 2013, The Roots of Excellence
September 26, 2013, Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on our Call to Action and Strategic Focus
September 11, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
September 3, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate
April 25, 2012, Superintendent of Schools Appointment Announcement
Resume for William S. McKersie (April 2012)