The Joint Initiative to Eliminate the Achievement Gaps holds first meeting at Arundel High School

Photo by Yarmi Kalokoh

By Yarmi Kalokoh

The Joint Initiative to Eliminate the Achievement Gaps, a new committee created to identify and investigate issues related to differences in academic performance among various student groups, held their first meeting in Arundel High School’s auditorium on Monday, September 23rd. The meeting, following a press release announcing the joint effort between the school board and county government, was led by both Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto and County Executive Steuart Pittman and provided Anne Arundel County (A.A.Co) and Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) data highlighting achievement gaps, particularly between African-American students and other student groups.

County and AACPS data shown during the meeting included statistics about the distribution of referrals, PARCC and NEAP assessment scores, chronic truancy, and suspension rates amongst all student groups, highlighting disparities among African-American students and their peers.                               

A.A.Co data was presented by Pamela M. Brown, Executive Director of the A.A.Co Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families, and AACPS data was presented by Jason Dykstra, Executive Director of the AACPS Instructional Data Division. According to the data shown, 12% of African-American students had been suspended in 2019, while other ethnic groups had a suspension rate between 4 and 7%. Furthermore, only 20% of the African-American student population got a passing score on the math section of PARCC in 2019, creating a 20% gap between them and their white counterparts. We’re here to talk about solutions,” County Executive Pittman says in his opening speech, “All we can do is to attack the issues from every direction we can.”

The initiative, consisting of parents, school system and county employees, and community members, was prompted by the widening gap in achievement among student groups, evident in the disparity in graduation rates between white students and their African-American counterparts in 2018. It is meant to investigate not only the issues with achievement within the school, but also the socioeconomic and racial factors that contribute to academic success. “It’s not about the fact that these children cannot do it. It’s about the lack of opportunity, and honestly, the systemic racism that is in every community in the nation,” Brown said.

 The meeting, although not structured as a town hall, allowed for input after the data presentation from those in attendance, including members of local governments and county officials, as well as Arundel’s principal, Gina Davenport. The crowd was split up into groups of 20 and sent to classrooms to answer questions such as: “What key issues presented tonight do you believe have the greatest impact on the achievement gap?” or “What questions still need to be addressed or what next steps should the committee consider?”

The input from the community in response to the data shown will “help the direction” of the initiative, as explained by Dr. Arlotto. When asked what role community input will play in the initiative, Arlotto responded, “What the work group will do from this point forward won’t be solely based on the feedback here, that would be a part of it.” The initiative, according to Arlotto, will allow for the involvement of elected officials and members of local governments who will invest time and resources needed to eliminate the gap, a goal, according to Pittman,  that the Anne Arundel community has failed to achieve. “Giving up is not an option. ” Pittman said in a statement, “Instead, we are bringing together the best minds in the field, from both education and community, to identify and initiate updated strategies.”