‘Horrific’ achievement gaps seen between white, minority Fayette students, superintendent says

Despite improvements, the achievement gap between white and minority students in Fayette public schools is “still horrific,“ Fayette County Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said at the school board’s recent planning meeting.

Liggins made the comments February 12 after FCPS Director of Assessment Brooke Stinson provided the latest numbers and trends from the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, called MAP, which tests students in grades K-9 three times each year.

Fayette County K-9 students had a MAP math score of 201.6 in winter 2023. For Black students, that score was 194. The MAP reading score for all students K-9 in winter 2023 was 197.4 compared to 192.7 for Black students.

For Hispanic students, the math score was 194.4 and the reading score was 189.5.

Fayette County school district data also showed that Black students were suspended far more often than white students.

Chief Student Support Officer Dedeeh Newbern said the district has to decrease the amount of time students are suspended so they are in class learning. There is a direct correlation between missed instruction and academic data, she said.

Black students were suspended 22.88 days per 100 students in fall 2023 compared with white students who were suspended 4.74 days.

Hispanic students were suspended 10.10 days per 100 students in fall 2023.

Statewide, according to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, in 2022, Kentucky had 27 classroom removals for every 100 students.

Black students experienced 64 classroom removals for every 100 students, Prichard Committee officials said.

Fayette County Public Schools “continues to provide a world class education and top notch opportunities for all of our students,” district spokesperson Dia Davidson-Smith said in response to the discussion of the achievement gap. “There are marked learning improvements, as evident in the recent (Kentucky Department of Education) Report Card, as well as areas for growth.”

“We have identified strategies to help equip our students to succeed and will continue to do so, making sure every FCPS student reaches their academic potential,” Davidson-Smith said.

She said the strategies are “mentorship connections, volunteer support in the schools, and academic supports that bring the school, home and family together as partners in the success of” all students.”

There are gaps all over the state, especially ones identified by income and disability, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence President/CEO Brigitte Blom said in a statement about Kentucky’s achievement gap.

Achievement gaps may be a result of instructional practices, school culture, or things that happen in homes and communities. Across Kentucky and the nation, there are robust debates about how much each of those elements contributes, and how much each element can help with changing the outcomes, Blom said.

“Where we see achievement gaps between groups of students, we have to expect that schools and district leadership will begin to have difficult conversations about the existence of lower expectations some adults may have regarding students of different income, race, and ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “We then need to expect varied solutions — including culturally responsive teaching, professional learning, family engagement and adequate student support — to rise to the top.”

MAP tests include 43 questions based on reading and math state standards.

In Fayette County at the February 12 school board meeting, officials presented projected proficiency data. The data shows if students were to take statewide assessments in December based on how they performed on MAP, here’s the correlation on how they would perform.

The scores of Black students in winter 2023 were far below that of all students by several points.

However, the data showed increases from winter 2022 to winter 2023 in all student groups.

For example, for Black students the MAP winter reading scores went from 187.7 in 2022 to 192.7 to 2023. The scores for all students went from 194.6 to 197.4. For Hispanic students, the MAP winter reading scores grew from 186.7 to 189.5.

“We’re making great gains when it comes to this adaptive assessment,” Stinson said of MAP, adding that teachers take that data to move the needle of student achievement.

Teachers immediately created plans to make improvements, she said.

Scores for Black students are improving or showing more growth than all students, Liggins said.

“That’s something to celebrate,” he said. “It’s going in the direction we would like it to go.”

Stinson said there are still several months of instruction left to enrich learning before students take statewide assessments in May.