When we reviewed a variety of data trends early in the year, one of the most jarring and alarming pieces of data that we discovered was the pervasive academic achievement gap involving Hispanic students across grade-levels earning a disproportionate amount of final failing grades (E’s) on report cards (11.7). It inflamed our sense of educational justice and got us focused on one hard question: Why is this happening? Our perception was that like many systemic educational phenomena, the cause was multi-faceted, which is why we decided to create a quantitative and qualitative report on what was fueling this gap (11.6). We decided our closing the gap goal would specifically target 6th grade students to align with our 3rd program goal, therefore we provided select interventions only to 6th grade students. However, because we knew this gap spanned all grades, where possible, we also provided interventions to 6th-8th students. In expanding some closing the gap efforts to all grades, we also hoped to determine what interventions would be appropriate to include in our future core curriculum and closing the gap efforts.
We were excited when we re-discovered our copy of “School Counseling to close the Achievement Gap” by Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy. Each chapter in her book focused on different strategies, and we selected three chapters/strategies that we could implement within our school to work toward closing the gap. These chapters included: Chapter 3- Counseling and intervention planning, Chapter 5- Connecting schools, families, and communities, and Chapter 6- Using data to uncover inequities (Holcomb-McCoy, 2007).
Based on this research to address the Hispanic achievement gap, which for us was apparent across all grade-levels (11.7), we first identified a Tier I intervention for students across all grades to encourage academic success. We developed classroom lessons on academic planning and the importance of education in achieving future goals (11.9). Students created individualized 4-6 year academic plans where they made connections to their current academic achievement and the opportunities available to them in the future.
Our main ‘counseling’ intervention was individual goal-setting and follow-up meetings with all Hispanic students who had an E (failing grade) in the same core class for both first and second quarter grades, because they seemed most at risk of earning a final grade of E. This turned out to be 34 students in 6-8th grades. We gathered pre-assessment data on ‘healthy’ academic habits during our first meeting and during our follow-up meeting we discussed strategies with students to improve these habits (11.3). Perception data particularly showed a need for students to feel they have someone talk to and problem/solve with when they were upset about something, which is a topic we will include in planning next year’s core curriculum and small groups. We also created a data report from the pre-assessment data and shared it within our counseling department and advisory council about how the needs reflected would influence our future program goals (11.6).
Another intervention was the parent and student summer academic planning meetings with 6th grade parents before school started in August (11.12). We had several meetings with our school’s parent liaison, minority achievement coordinator, and several Hispanic parents about what we could do to better engage Hispanic parents (11.4). Repeated themes included 1) not knowing English well and 2) a lack of feeling connected to what was going on in school suggested the need for these meetings. In addition, Dr. Holcomb McCoy’s emphasis on the school-family-community connection inspired our indirect interventions to support Spanish-speaking families, including the WhatsAPP texting group (a Feeder elementary school already had a successful group as our model), the Spanish ParentVue training, and translating as many documents in Spanish as possible for parents (11.11).
Though we implemented a variety of interventions, the data indicates that we reduced the number of Hispanic students on the 6th grade watch list by 50%. However, Hispanic students still represented 77% of the final failing grades for 6th grade (and 76% and 69% for 7th and 8th grade, respectively) (11.7). In our results report we highlight a variety of specific changes we hope to make to our program to continue increasing our impact on this problem. Our biggest recommendation to our school administrators is that an inter-disciplinary committee be developed to analyze and make recommendations about how the entire school can work to support closing this achievement gap, which our department has offered to lead and organize.
Goal: By June 2018, the 20 Hispanic 6th graders identified on the Academic Watch List in the 1st Quarter (defined as students with 2 or more Ds or Es in Math, Science, Social Studies, or English), will be reduced by at least 25% to 15 students or less by the final marking period.
Target Group: Hispanic Students
Data Used to Identify Students: 1st and 2nd quarter grades in core classes
School Counselor(s): Amelia Black, Erin Pennington, Ana Rodriguez, Susan Russo, Tiffini Woody-Pope
ASCA Domain, Mindsets & Behaviors Standard(s): M 3 B-SS 6 B- SS 8 B- LS 7
Type of Activities to be Delivered in What Manner?: Interventions were chosen based on chapters 3, 5, and 6 from Cheryl Holcomb McCoy’s book “School Counseling to Close the Achievement Gap”
Because the Hispanic student achievement gap was school-wide, we implemented some interventions across grade-levels even though our goal was only for 6th grade students.
- All counselors participated in Individual goal setting meetings and periodic follow-up with all Hispanic students in the school with two or more E's in core classes both 1st and 2nd quarter (34 students)
- Spanish-language Parent education night event and back to school basics night on training parents in parentvue (Our system for viewing students’ gradebook)
- Coordination with minority achievement coordinator and parent liason to create “What’s App” texting group for Spanish parents to increase parent inter-connectedness and knowledge of what is going on at school
- Letter home in Spanish and English to all s students with an E on their report card on 1st or 2nd quarter.
- Spanish and English letter sent home letting parents know about the importance of summer school for students identified by teachers
-Develop a quantitative and qualitative report to inform future counseling interventions on closing this the achievement gap. This report will be reflected on by counseling staff and then shared with administration and the TJMS advisory council.
Interventions ONLY with 6th grade students
- All students on the academic watch list did individual goal setting meetings (15-30 minutes) to make a plan for grade improvement
- All students were invited to Summer meetings with rising 6th grade students and parents in late August to complete academic planning for middle and high school. The letter sent home inviting families was in Spanish and English and meetings were held with Spanish translation available.
- Academic planning lessons were conducted with all students in each grade that connected middle school efforts to high school and career outcomes. Follow-up small group lessons were completed for students who were absent.
Process Data (Number of students affected): Direct Student Interventions:
- Individual goal setting meetings and follow-up-
11 6th grade students
13 7th grade students
10 8th grade students
-114 6th grade students met with their parents over the summer to discuss academic planning. 19 of these meetings were conducted in Spanish.
- 361 6h grade students, 365 7th grade students, and, 317 8th grade students and completed individual academic plans in classroom lessons or in follow-up group sessions for absent students.
Indirect Student Interventions:
- 232 letters sent home for students who earned an E’s 1st or 2nd quarter
- 243 Letters sent home to parents about summer school
- Parents of 17 students attended Spanish parent-vue training
- 34 parents in WhatsApp texting group as of the end of the school-year
Perception Data (Surveys or assessments used): Pre & Post assessment results from before the first individual goal setting meetings and after the meetings and 9 weeks of periodic follow-up check-ins:
1) If you are upset at home what do you?
Talk with a trusted adult or friend
Pre: 14 Students (41%)
Post: 21 Students (62%)
- 21% increase
Handle it on my own
Pre: 20 students (59%)
Post: 13 students (38%)
- 21% Decrease
2)What do you do if you get upset in school?
Talk with a trusted adult or friend?
Pre: 17 Students (50%)
Post: 25 Students (74%)
Handle it on my own
Pre: 17 students (50%)
Post: 9 students (26%)
3) Do you seek extra help when you need it?
Post: 15 (44%)
Pre: 12 (35%)
Post: 14 (41%)
Pre: 11 (32%)
Post: 5 (15%)
4) How welcome do you feel in school with 5 being the most welcome?
Students who chose 4 or 5:
Pre: 26 Students (76%)
Post: 28 Students (82%)
Students who chose 1,2, or 3:
Pre: 8 Students (24%)
Post: 6 Students (18%)
5) Do you know what kind of environment you study best in?
Pre: 8 Students (24%)
Post: 25 Students (74%)
A little bit
Pre: 9 Students (26%)
Post: 2 students (6%)
Pre: 17 Students (50%)
Post: 7 students (21%)
Outcome Data (Achievement, attendance, and/or behavior data): Data for 6th grade students:
20 6th grade Hispanic students started on the academic watch list
By the final marking period grades only 10 Hispanic students were on the academic watch list, which was a 50% drop.
Data for “Work Smarter not Harder” intervention given to Hispanic students with semester grade E’s from 6th, 7th, and 8th grade:
9 of 34 students given the intervention had zero E’s in a core class as of final grades. This was a 26% decrease off of the original list of 34 students.
Number and percentage of 6th grade Final Grade E’s in core classes that were earned by a Hispanic student:
2014-2015 10/13 77%
2015-2016 5/9 56%
2016-2017 5/10 50%
2017-2018 10/13 77%
(See attached data chart for more detailed breakdown of this data)
Implications: - There was a 21% increase in students reporting that they talked with a trusted adult or friend when they were upset at home and a 24% increase in students reporting that they talk with a trusted adult or friend when they were upset at school. This seems to indicate that our conversations with students on identifying people they could problem solve with were somewhat effective at helping some students identify support people they could turn to.
-However, we were concerned that the pre-test indicated such high percentages of students surveyed handled upsetting issues at home and at school on their own (59% and 50% respectively). Next year we plan to include in our core curriculum action plan a lesson, or part of a lesson, on how to identify people you can lean on when going through challenges and how to ask for help. Then once we have a foundation of knowledge and skills established through core curriculum with all students, we can do small group or individual counseling with the identified students who still indicate they handle problems on their own.
- There was a 50% increase in students reporting that they knew “very well” the environment they studied best in. The simple conversations we had with students went a long way in their ability to identify this. Thus, we will be including an activity on identifying your best study environment in our core curriculum next year, most likely in everyone’s introductory counseling lesson.
- The reduction of Hispanic 6th grade students off the 1st quarter watch-list by final grades (50%) seems to indicate many students that we targeted for intervention dropped off the academic watch list. However, we noticed that the academic watch-list reduction did not change the fact that Hispanic students still represented an alarmingly disproportionate total of the students who earned at least one E in a core class in 6th grade.
- Of the 34 students that we targeting for our school-wide intervention, 9 students had zero final grade E’s on their report cards. We did not make our closing the gap goal for 6,7, and 8th grade students because we wanted to reflect on how our interventions worked on a small group before making them school-wide; the data from this particular school-wide intervention indicates that it was successful. Based on the positive trend from this data, next year we plan to expand our closing the gap efforts to a school-wide goal.
- We felt our parent engagement event would have been more useful earlier in the school year. Our desire for more grandiose plans for the event kept delaying it and ended up making it less effective. We have already planned a date in October for a similar event for the upcoming school year.
- The data report that we put together pulled out certain future target subgroups to focus on for the Hispanic achievement gap: Males, 7th graders, and level 6 HILT students.
In discussing our data with school administration, we brought up that certain trends in classes and certain teachers also stood out in the data. We have suggested creating an interdisciplinary team to be developed, which we have offered to lead, to more deeply analyze the causes and solutions to this achievement gap here at TJ
- We plan to continue to ensure that any document we send home to parents is provided in both English and Spanish. Our research shows that language is consistently a barrier for many Hispanic parents (attachment 11.8) and it is a concern many parents at our school have brought to our attention.