SPS Graduation Rate Increases While Achievement-Gap Concerns Continue
After approaching the year of pandemic-related challenges with flexible learning environments and tools to help students learn off-site, Springfield Public Schools saw results that both encourage and concern educators and parents, according to a new white paper released today on education from the Community Focus Report.
This year, the Community Focus Report — the biennial report card of strengths and challenges in Springfield and Greene County — is releasing detailed white papers focused on the 11 key areas ahead of the printed report, which will be released on Oct. 21.
SPS showed flexibility in handling an at-home learning platform when COVID-19 caused a community shutdown at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. To facilitate virtual learning, SPS ensured every student had a device and adequate internet service. Among populations that needed additional help, SPS conducted well-checks, and provided food and support services. For the 2020-2021 school year, the district presented a hybrid learning environment with families offered fully virtual learning or modified in-person learning while following health and safety protocols.
Despite the unexpected change, there was good news. The district's four-year graduation rate rose to a record high of 93.6% for the 2019-20 school year – up from 88.5% in 2018-19 and 85.8% in 2017-18. Most notable were increases among under-resourced and under-represented students, with a 9.4% rate increase among students from poverty; a 1.8% increase among Black students; and a 7.9% increase among Hispanic/Latinx students.
With its focus on an accessible and inclusive school system, new programs contributed to student success. In one expanded learning opportunity, high school students were offered virtual courses, with 4,505 high school credits earned that way and 76.3% of 2020 graduating seniors participating in at least one virtual class. More Black and Hispanic/Latinx students are participating in the after-school tutoring program, Club Encore. And students at Central, Hillcrest and Parkview high schools were ensured equitable access to Advanced Placement and Baccalaureate courses in comparison to their peer groups, with a total of 160 under-represented students identified for upcoming AP course enrollments. Additionally, 352 fourth- through eighth-grade students participated in Empowerment Groups, which provide learning and cultural opportunities. The Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, a new magnet school, opened in August 2020; the AgAcademy magnet school will be available in 2022.
Still, achievement gaps continue among under-resourced and under-represented students — magnified by the pandemic and school closures. Comparisons between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years show a drop in performance for reading and math on, or above, grade level among students in grades K-8. And there was an increase in course failure rates for students in grades 6-12. The gap in graduation rates also widened from 2019-20 to 2020-21 between students in poverty and those who are not; and between Black and Hispanic/Latinx students compared to White students.
Effective teachers, leaders and staff to better serve under-resourced and under-represented students are key, which is why there's concern that SPS received fewer applications in 2020 for certified and operations positions compared to 2019 (although mitigating factors make direct comparisons impossible). One of the new positions hired is responsible for coordinating and recruiting a diverse workforce as part of the new strategic plan's focus on equity and diversity.
The complete list of Blue Ribbons and Red Flags for Education can be found in the white paper.
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