Mallory Herrmann

The Lee’s Summit Board of Education has continued their consideration of equity initiatives in the school district. At their work session this week, they heard a presentation about student demographics, student performance, and the intersection of data when considering how to close achievement gaps. Dr. Katie Collier, associate superintendent of academic services, and Dr. Christiana Barger, executive director of assessment and data analysis, compiled and presented the data.

Tensions have been running high, particularly online, in conversations about race and equity in the R-7 district. The board approved a five-year plan in 2017 that included a goal to increase staff diversity each year to be more reflective of the student population’s demographics. At their monthly meeting in August, the board heard that approximately 76 percent of students are white and 12 percent of students are black, while 94 percent of staff are white and only 4 percent of staff are black.

Superintendent Dennis Carpenter sought to bring in a consultant for a board workshop on issues of equity and white privilege, but approval of the funding was removed from the agenda after a backlash. Parents cited frustration that a broader discussion of equity wasn’t taking place, instead focusing primarily on the issue of race between black and white students. During the work session, the board was shown a more thorough investigation of the data to show how race, gender, poverty and academic performance can intersect.

For instance, in data from 2017 MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) testing shows that 80.1 percent of white students who do not receive free and reduced lunches were proficient in English Language Arts (ELA), while 61.0 percent of white students who did receive free and reduced lunches were proficient. For black students, only 65.8 percent who paid in full for lunches tested as proficient in ELA; 31.4 percent of black students participating in the free and reduced lunch program scored proficient. The presentation summarized the data for 2014-2017: “White students of poverty outperform black students of poverty by between 13 and 29 percentage points.” The differences were just as stark when considering race and gender: the gap between the highest performing group (white females) and the lowest (black males) was 36 percent.

“We have to start with believing the data,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said that the data shows that achievement gaps linger, even when looking at other factors. For 2017 state standards, “achievement of subgroups” was the only category in which the R-7 school district did not receive full marks. That is reflected in the data. In national testing, average ACT scores have differed as much as 4.6 points between white and black students for the years 2014-2017. The difference between a 17 and a 21, the approximate averages of scores for black and white students respectively, can have an enormous impact on both college acceptance rates and scholarship awards.

There was a large public attendance at the meeting, though there is no public comments portion and no specific actions are taken during work sessions. Carpenter said his cabinet will be going to St. Louis soon to have a joint meeting with the Parkway School District, which has been working toward equity and diversity goals for several years.

All board members were present at the Oct. 3 meeting.

A digital copy of the presentation is available for viewing on the school board website under the Oct. 3 work session: