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Results are concerning as Pinellas launches plan to bridge achievement gap, but it's early

Ricardo Davis (center, holding a microphone) addresses a 2015 meeting on Pinellas County education issues. Recently, he acknowledged that early test results from black students are concerning as the school district begins its 10-year "Bridging the Gap" plan, but he added that the district's efforts so far have been encouraging. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Jan. 8, 2018

The Pinellas County school district has released a new glimpse of how black students are faring, the first report on a new plan that aims to tackle the achievement gap by 2027.

The takeaway: Black students as a group are still performing poorly on English and math tests, but the advocates who are pushing for better results say it's early and they are pleased with the district's efforts so far.

The 40-page report includes data for the first quarter of the 2017-18 school year for six benchmarks: graduation rate, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, exceptional student education and minority hiring. District officials will present the report at a meeting Wednesday hosted by the Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students.

Known as COQEBS, the group is the plaintiff in a long-running state lawsuit that has accused the district of shortchanging black students. Officials for COQEBS and the district spent more than a year in sometimes tense negotiations before unveiling a 10-year plan to bridge the achievement gap in May.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: New Pinellas schools plan touted as 'turning point' that would tackle achievement gap in 10 years

"I think it's off to a good start because I believe that the district was a little more purposeful about implementing it and rolling it out," COQEBS president Rick Davis said of the plan so far. "From the feedback that I'm getting, all of the schools are on board."

During the first semester of this school year, just 26 percent of Pinellas black students in grades 3 through 5 scored at or near proficiency in English language arts on practice tests. The number was 36 percent for district math tests.

The results were similar in last spring's state tests.

Though disciplinary measures like out-of-school suspensions and referrals are on the decline, the numbers suggest the techniques are benefiting white students more.

Suspension rates for white students dropped 2.3 percent from the first semester of the 2016-17 school year to the first semester of this year. In contrast, the rate for black students went up; they make up 54.6 percent of suspensions this year compared to 52.7 percent last year. And the suspension rate for Hispanic students jumped 15.1 percent.

Referrals continue to drop across the board from last school year. However, referrals for white students plummeted at a steeper rate, leaving the suspension rates for black students unchanged at 48.8 percent. The district saw a slight uptick among Hispanic students at 12.9 percent.

Davis acknowledged that the data was concerning, but said it was important to see how the district addresses the data and demonstrates how flexible it is to making changes that benefit more black students.

"I'm trying not to be too reactive to the short-term data, but instead identify and respond to questions," Davis said. "'How are you guys interpreting this? Is it a sign that restorative practice is not working?' I'm more interested in how they're viewing it and what they're going to do."

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If you go

The full, first quarter report of the Pinellas County School District's "Bridging the Gap" plan will be presented at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at a meeting of Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S in St. Petersburg.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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