The Journal Gazette
Sunday, March 17, 2019 1:00 am

Indiana's twin education deficits

Students' widening achievement gap must be narrowed

Jennifer McCormick

Recently, there has been debate regarding the achievement gap across student groups and approaches to monitoring the progress of these groups. I would be negligent in my duties if I did not provide accurate information on this issue of equity.

Ten years of historical performance data show the average achievement gap between the highest- and lowest-performing student groups is roughly 28 percentage points for English/language arts and roughly 35 percentage points for mathematics.

Federal law, in contrast to Indiana law, requires specific student group performance be measured, monitored and addressed. I stand in agreement with this federal mandate; otherwise, the achievement of specific student groups would be disregarded.

In an effort to address these historical disparities, the Indiana Department of Education set performance goals to monitor the progress of all students, including specific student groups. These goals are not ceilings of performance, but rather interim benchmarks, not to be construed as final expectations. The department considered historical performance data, the effectiveness of a decade's worth of education policy, prior efforts to close achievement gaps and national research when setting these goals.

To close achievement gaps, we must first acknowledge where students are and establish goals that are ambitious yet achievable given these starting points. Progress goals set by the department aim to increase student performance and graduation rates for all specific student groups.

There was overwhelming support for this specific approach from Indiana stakeholders, advocacy groups, technical assistance working teams and the public through its comments. It is for this reason more than half of the states and territories joined Indiana in utilizing this federally endorsed approach to monitoring student progress.

Setting goals is just the first step. The next step requires action.

In an effort to address the achievement gap, strategic and targeted practices have been implemented by the department. These have included the deployment of comprehensive school improvement initiatives, reorganization of department staffing, distribution of funds specifically designed to assist schools in addressing the achievement gap, focused educator professional development and leveraging partnerships.

The department invests its energy and resources toward helping all students achieve their highest potential and receive an equitable education. Indiana must measure what matters to determine progress toward closing the achievement gap.

I appreciate that this debate has opened a dialogue on education policy in our state. All Indiana students deserve sound policies and best practices. This requires Hoosiers to be informed (#beinformed).

As always, under my leadership, the department will continue to advocate for all students, rather than allowing political agendas to misrepresent true educational equity.

Jennifer McCormick is Indiana state superintendent of public instruction.

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