A Search Tool for Gap Closers

by CRAIG JERALD

Academic research can help guide decisions about how best to raise the achievement of poor and minority students, but so can on-the-ground experience.


Too often, though, we ignore our successes rather than seeking to learn from them. Especially now, educational leaders should look for ways to spotlight and learn from schools that teach poor and minority children to high levels, rather than simply dismissing them as flukes and outliers.

The Education Trust unveiled an exciting new website to help with that process. Dispelling the Myth Online (www.edtrust.org) allows users to search for schools that have high enrollments of low-income or minority students and impressive results on state assessments. The site employs a first-of-its-kind database with demographic information and test data for more than 90,000 public schools nationwide.

Identifying Models
Dispelling the Myth Online can help local education leaders move public conversations about closing the achievement gap beyond questions about “whether” and “if” and instead focused firmly on “when” and “how.”

For example, the school board in Broward County, Fla., working with the local chapter of the Urban League, is using Dispelling the Myth Online as a platform for identifying schools in Florida and other states that have had unusual success in educating African American children. The two organizations hosted a “Dispelling the Myth Education Summit,” where community members met with representatives of those schools to learn about strategies for raising the achievement of African American students in Broward.

By making simple choices presented on the site, users can instruct the tool to search for schools meeting a wide range of demographic and achievement criteria. For example, with a few clicks of the mouse, it’s possible to see:

• the 14 schools in Florida with more than 66 percent low-income students that also scored in the top third among schools taking the state’s 4th-grade reading test in 2001; or

• the 57 schools in Texas with more than 75 percent African American students who also scored in the top quarter on the state’s 6th-grade mathematics test for two years in a row.

For states with more than one year of test data, the website also allows users to search for schools that have made large improvements in student achievement over a particular time span.

Useful Data
Our own research shows there are thousands of schools nationwide that have poverty rates and/or minority enrollments in the top third of their respective states and also had top-third scores on one or more state assessments.

No one set of criteria can fit all purposes, however, so the site also allows users to search for schools that meet additional overlapping criteria for high performance. For example, there are nearly 1,300 schools where the majority of students are poor or African American and Latino and that have achieved scores in the top third in more than one subject area over multiple years.

The website is a work in progress. We plan to add new disaggregated test scores as they become more widely published by states over the next year. Eventually, such data will allow users to search for schools that have reduced within-school achievement gaps.