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Orange County BOE review disparities in academic performance and discipline

Art lines the hallways of Mel and Zora Rashkis Elementary School.

The Orange County Board of Education discussed disparities in both academic performance and disciplinary action across the district in a meeting on Tuesday. - we'd want to be specific in the lede with data/what the disparities are 

Members of the Orange County school system presented findings based on a series of analytical programs that establish performance and progress standards to monitor math and reading skills.

Through the use of these systems, the board aims to target disparities in academic performance as a result of implicit bias within the school system.

Ambra Wilson, the district's executive director of literacy, provided an overview of how Kindergarten students' literacy progressed from the beginning to middle of the year.

Wilson said that Hispanic kindergarten students experienced a of 31 percent increase in literacy skills, which was on par with that of white students. Black students, however, only experienced a growth of 19 percent. - ask for clarification

Wilson said that correcting instruction is a focus and priority to correct this problem.

“We are committed to addressing the barriers that prevent all students in OCS from achieving high rates of proficiency,” Wilson said. “This is the priority in the work that we’re doing at each and every school.”

Members from the school system also commented on the need for improved resources for students with disabilities – specifically the Exceptional Children program. 

Connie Crimmins, the director of Exceptional Children, said that these subgroups are the lowest performing across Orange County Schools.  - stats on students with disabilities?

She noted that these groups suffered from the pandemic after it made Direct Instruction, smaller, face-to-face classes, an impossibility. 

Crimmins specifically mentioned that Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary and Hillsborough Elementary – schools that have consistently implemented Direct Instruction programs five days a week – have shown the highest level of growth in reading for EC students.

According to Crimmins, it is all of the directors’ goal to find the proper balance between Direct Instruction programs and general education for students with disabilities.

“That means adapting – as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child – the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of that child," Crimmins said.

The board also discussed the breakdown of disciplinary actions for student demographics. 

They broke down the disciplinary actions by the type of referral – attendance, aggression and classroom interactions – and by grade. - can we put in these stats?

Meghan Doyle, chief of schools and achievement for Orange County Schools, said that the most common referral among elementary and middle schoolers was physical aggression and fighting. 

She said that it is important to create a clear definition of aggression to prevent bias.

“It’s really important that at the school level we do some work to systematically define and consistently reinforce what the definitions of these infractions are so that we’re not inadvertently being biased in how we name the incident as well as the consequences for those incidents,"  Doyle said.

The data also showed that Black and multi-racial students were disciplined at a disproportionate rate compared to the percent of their makeup of the student body. - put in specific stats

Doyle said that this is an overrepresentation that cannot be overlooked. 

She said that it is important to look at both the frequency of incidents and where there is disproportionality in how similar incidents are handled. The next step, according to Doyle, is to educate teachers, staff and students to recognize microaggressions.

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“Our superintendent has really been pushing on this issue and ensuring that our staff is providing that framing,” Doyle said. 

She said the school system plans to combat this issue through staff training and one-on-one meetings with all school leaders about this problem.

Sherita Cobb, director of student support services for Orange County Schools, emphasized that students need an environment in which they feel they’re treated fairly and have access to support systems. 

In a panorama survey of Orange County students from sixth to 12th grade, only 32 percent said that they feel understood by people in their school. This is an 11 percent drop from the prior school year.

Cobb said this is crucial in highlighting the need to build stronger relationships within the school, and the implementation of a district-wide social-emotional learning program.


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