Guest Spot: Achievement gap for minorities cannot be ignored

The Riverhead Charter School in Calverton.
The Riverhead Charter School in Calverton.

Riverhead Charter School has been in and out of the local newspapers this year due to allegations of “Union busting.”  The local newspapers have done an excellent job with covering these allegations. We commend the media for providing the public with unbiased accounts of the happenings at RCS. 

Moreover, Charter schools should hold themselves to a higher standard than district schools. Prior to the New York State Common Core examinations given in 2013, RCS perennially outperformed most of the school districts where we receive students.

However, in 2013, 11 percent of our 3rd graders passed the N.Y. state Math and ELA exam. Out of the 35 students that took the exam, four students passed with a grade of three or higher (four being the highest score). The racial breakdown of the students taking the test was as follows: 10 Caucasian students, 16 African-American students, seven Latino students and two mixed-race students. Out of the four students that passed with a score of three or higher, three were Caucasian and one was Latino. Out of the four students that passed these exams, three were new students to RCS, meaning they did not start in kindergarten with the rest of the cohort of students.

As an emerging scholar-practitioner, there were some immediate trends that were easily identified by this data. The first trend was identifying there was a systemic problem occurring in the primary grades. The solution to this problem entailed an overhaul of the previous curricula, and full assimilation to a Common Core Curricula, as well as some strategic staffing decisions.

The second identified trend was that minority students were underperforming compared to their Caucasian peers. The solution to this identified trend was launching a full-scale, comprehensive RTI program, along with adding time in the students’ schedules for small group instruction to focus on mastering Math & ELA objectives. We also added quarterly diagnostic exams for the testing grades, as well as interim exams to be used as predictors on how students will perform on the 2014 NYS Common Core examinations.

The school’s intense focus on academics has infuriated some parents, and for that I apologize. However, my job is to raise the bar for all students at RCS. In this, the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, minority students deserve this commitment from educators. There is an obvious achievement gap for minority students in the United States, and this problem can no longer be ignored.

Raymond J. Ankrum is the executive director/principal of Riverhead Charter School in Calverton.