Opinion: Data-driven solutions needed to close WCCUSD student achievement gaps

Op-Ed: Data-driven solutions needed to close WCCUSD student achievement gaps

By Natalie Walchuk

Every young person is a unique combination of talents, skills, and needs. As a mother of three, I am constantly awed by my childrens’ differences and what each needs to be successful. The thought of magnifying that understanding for West Contra Costa’s 30,000+ youth can feel daunting.

One way to stay focused on meeting individual students’ needs — especially in a large and diverse community like ours — is to set clear priorities, personalized for specific student groups based on up-to-date data and evidence. Equally important is the use of shared data systems and protocols to measure improvements and monitor progress over time.

There is tremendous opportunity in West Contra Costa to be a district where high quality data drives decisions about funding, resources, programs, and services for students. Strong data should not only help to inform decision-making, but also to support transparency and accountability for these decisions.

GO Public Schools West Contra Costa’s first annual student progress report features findings on our students’ Pre-K-12th Grade outcomes, and aims to inspire alignment, action, and data-driven decision-making across our schools. The report focuses on transforming outcomes for children of color, low-income youth, and English Language Learners — students who historically come from underserved backgrounds. This transformation will be possible through rich partnership among families, educators, leaders, and community allies.

The data available show that a large share of our young people fall short of their potential throughout the journey from cradle to career. There is an urgent need for us to be strategic and intentional with the limited resources available. Our community’s African American students experience some of the largest and most persistent gaps in learning and achievement, as compared to students from other backgrounds. In both 3rd grade English and 8th grade Math — two key indicators of long term academic and life success — African American students performed the lowest among all ethnic subgroups in 2016. In fact, only seven percent  of our low-income African American 8th graders were proficient in Math last year.

When it comes to college readiness, African American students in the 11th grade had the lowest rates of achievement rates in the region, with only 10 percent proficient in Math and 28 percent in English. Additionally, only a quarter (26 percent) of African American 12th graders were eligible to apply to our state’s University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems upon graduation in 2015, as compared to 42 percent of students across West Contra Costa.

We also need more data about school climate — how our students experience their classroom and school environments. Publicly available school climate data for 5th, 7th, and 9th through 12th grade students are neither broken down by ethnic subgroups nor account for early elementary school students. This limits our ability to respond to the experiences of our most vulnerable student populations.

The power to interrupt historical inequity and oppression starts with education, and it must begin in our schools. By addressing the needs of our students who experience the greatest achievement gaps, we can move the needle for all students and families.

To close these gaps, we need more information from district leaders and policymakers about how data is used to make evidence-based decisions to improve student outcomes. We must equip our educators with the information needed to meet the unique student needs they see everyday; specifically, we should have timely access to data that shows whether students are meeting grade level standards each year, and helps to identify interventions and solutions if they are not on track.

We call on our Board of Education and Superintendent to invest in building the school district’s capacity to centralize and collect comprehensive data for all to access and use. Together, we can partner to ensure that our school leaders and educators are aligned and empowered to use evidence to drive continuous improvements for students of all backgrounds.

Natalie Walchuk is the Executive Director of GO Public Schools West Contra Costa.

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