advanced learning (copy)

Disparities by race in advanced learning enrollment at Madison high schools continued in the 2018-19 school year.

Black and Latinx students continue to be underrepresented in advanced learning classes at Madison School District high schools.
Data presented Monday night to the Instruction Work Group of the Madison School Board showed that while more students of color enrolled in Early College Credit courses in 2018-19 than 2016-17, the number of white students enrolling grew similarly.

Early College Credit courses include Advanced Placement — by far the most common — along with dual credit, Gateway to College, Middle College, Start College Now and the Early College STEM Academy.

Of the 2,976 students enrolled in the ECC courses in 2018-19, 10.6% were black, 17.8% were Latinx and 52.5% were white. The district as a whole was made up of 17.9% black students and 21.7% Latinx students in 2018-19.

“I have heard the word segregation thrown out on this board, and to me that is a clear sign of segregation when we see the discrepancy,” board member Ananda Mirilli said looking at a graph of enrollment trends. “At some point we just need to make it unacceptable that we’re going to have 100% white in a classroom.”

Administrators expressed hope the Earned Honors program, established two years ago, could make progress toward fixing the disparity, though they acknowledged “some work to do” in assessing the rigor of the program and its consistency with standalone honors classes. The program allows standout students in non-honors courses to earn the credits by “demonstrating content mastery,” versus students having to “opt in” to standalone honors classes, which often require prerequisites.

Earned Honors is available in English, social studies and science to ninth and 10th grade students in the Pathways program at each high school. Additionally, ninth graders not in Pathways can be part of Earned Honors through Algebra 1 at Memorial, biology at West and all core courses at East.

Data showed that 52% of the students who received an Earned Honors credit in 2018-19 were white, compared to 61% of students who received credit for a standalone honors class.

The district has worked on Earned Honors and closing the gap in advanced classes enrollment since a 2016 resolution from the national Department of Education Office of Civil Rights found “a substantial and widespread disparity between the participation of white students on the one hand, and African-American and Hispanic students on the other” at each of the elementary, middle and high school levels. The district and OCR agreed to a voluntary resolution that included requirements that the district modify its criteria for entry into advanced coursework, conduct outreach to parents and students and enter into a partnership with an equity consultant, which it has done with Equal Opportunity Schools.

Cindy Green, the executive director of Pathways and Secondary Programs, said AP classes “are seen very much as white classes and kind of promoting whiteness.” She said work on staffing diversity and professional development in culturally responsive teaching, along with making the benefits of classes clear to students, will be key to changing that.

“Off the top of my head I can tell you there’s very few teachers of color because there’s very few teachers of color across our high schools in general,” Green said in response to a question about teachers of color leading advanced learning classrooms.

Board member Kate Toews said she was concerned the Earned Honors programming was less rigorous than standalone honors classes, and stressed the importance of the board measuring “based on what that experience is like, not just based on who’s being identified.”

“We need to make sure we’re actually delivering instruction in a differentiated way that actually challenges them,” Toews said. “We have no way to know that right now.”

Board members requested more data on how students were being identified as gifted earlier in their school careers, wanting to know whether those students eventually took advanced coursework in high school.

“I imagine as disproportionate as secondary is … that our elementary school data is actually disproportionate to a greater extent than that,” said board member Ali Janae Muldrow.

That data was not available Monday, though interim director of advanced learning Leanne Born said they “certainly can look at that.”

“I think we have some pretty clear hypotheses about what that data might show us, and hopefully it will be different-looking data going forward,” she said.

Board member Cris Carusi said that evaluation is important, and setting a goal for the rigor of coursework would be important to go along with giving more access to students.

“I really feel that we need to ensure that we’re giving all kids a chance to accept the most rigorous coursework they can do,” Carusi said.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.