Schools Look to Close Achievement Gaps

November 27, 2023
• School administrators presented on three areas worth tracking to provide a more equitable learning experience across race, ability, income and language.

In a report delivered to the School Committee Nov. 21, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Mary Lammi examined how school discipline, chronic absenteeism and overrepresentation in special education programs adversely impacts particular students in the district, including students of color, low-income students, those with disabilities and English language learners. Lammi pulled data from internal district data and reports to the state during the 2022-23 school year.

By Massachusetts standards, Needham is in good standing — Lammi shared that across key indicators, the town doesn’t show signs of any significant discrepancy, and the town consistently performed better than state averages. However, she cautioned several times throughout her report that the individual statistics still show increased impact among certain groups of learners.

You can see that we have a lot of students that have much greater vulnerability in this area,Lammi said. It’s important for us to really work closely with our families and our students to be sure we are supporting them in a way that is helpful, and helps to stabilize education for them.

The School Committee expressed greatest concern at how chronic absenteeism has been affecting the student population since the pandemic. From 2022-23, 13.3% of students were absent for at least 10% of the school year, representing an absence of more than 18 days. In the studied groups, there was a greater percentage of chronically absent students. While it still compares favorably to the state, this has had a noticeable impact on student performance.

Ten percent of the students miss a day every two weeks, School Committee member Michael Greis said. That feels very large.

We are still not through it (the pandemic) in regards to the impact, particularly in mental health, Lammi responded. There is a lot that happens every single day in regards to students and families that are struggling with just engagement and being able to get into school.

Lammi also outlined the measures that the schools are taking to counteract both the causes and effects of chronic absenteeism. Along with engaging with families whose students are absent more than five days and implementing an accommodation plan across the district, she also cited recent efforts, such as the hiring of two counseling directors.

By keeping a watchful eye on the districts data and addressing possible problem areas on an individual basis, Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst is hoping to keep educational standards consistent.

Were really trying to make that a routine part of our job. How are we using this data to really impact programs and make changes? Because we do have some issues of concern here. So I appreciate that it is a team effort to look at it and see where we can go improve.

You can watch the full report to the Needham School Committee here.

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