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County schools implementing minority college-readiness program

(Dec. 21, 2012) Worcester County schools will be pioneering an initiative to bolster minority college readiness this spring semester, with officials noting that the county has been successful in closing the achievement gap for low-performing students, but has more ground to cover for those with higher potential.

Coordinator of Instruction Shirleen Church presented the Board of Education with plans this week for the “Building a Bridge to College Summit Program,” which aims to provide informational and motivational activities for students and parents with regards to post-secondary preparedness.

“All of our goals emphasize academic excellence and college readiness,” Church said. Specifically, the program aims to increase the participation rate in its target groups in honors programs, Advanced Placement classes and dual-enrollment courses.

That target audience consists of students who, while showing considerable academic potential, may lack the outside support or institutional knowledge to take full advantage of the high-level programs that can help them with education past high school.

“Students who are on the verge of getting on the honor roll,” Church said, for example. “Students who should be in these AP classes but who, for whatever reason, are taking an easier load.”

Church has selected participants in grades 8 through 12 from throughout the county who come from economically disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds.

“The bottom line is that many of these students will be the first generation in their family to go to college or even complete high school,” Church said.

Over the past 10 years, data indicates that Worcester’s schools have been successful in closing the minority achievement gap with regards to minimum academic standards. Whereas 2003 scores from state standardized testing showed a 32-point gap between black and white students in math proficiency, that number was reduced to 9.1 points for 2012. The same trend shows in reading as well.

But despite being picked up from the low end, minority students are still not breaking through into the higher achievement brackets, which Church said are still dominated by white students.

In grades 6 through 8, 36 percent of black students achieve an honor roll grade point average of 3.25 or higher, versus 46 percent of white students. This gap widens to 5.7 percent – versus 25.7 percent – for the principal’s list qualification of 4.0 or above.

For the high school level, 27.6 percent of black students make the honor roll for a 3.5 or higher GPA, versus 32 percent of white students. But again, this gap widens at the top, with 38.9 percent of white students making the highest honors of 4.5 or above, versus 12.6 percent of black students.

While participation rates in Advanced Placement courses have risen, the gap has not closed: 4.7 percent of black students took AP courses in 2010-2011, versus 19.4 percent of white students. That rate rose for 2012-2013 to 12 and 33 percent, respectively.

While some students have been able to attend college fairs with the program, Church said the main event will be the countywide student and parent workshop to be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 5, 2013 at Worcester Technical High School.

“The key part on Feb. 5 is that we’ll have the parents involved, a lot of whom have not gone to college,” said Assistant Superintendant for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis.

Gaddis added that the county has begun to address post-secondary education to all students as early on as sixth grade.

“We have to change our mindset that you don’t think about college until high school,” he said.

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