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Addressing The Achievement Gap and Discipline Disparities in our Schools

Recently I was asked a few questions regarding Portland Promise and the Achievement Gap in our schools as well as whether there were disparities in discipline for certain students. For those who may not know the Mission of the Portland Promise is as follows: "The Portland Public Schools are responsible for ensuring a challenging, relevant and joyful education that empowers every learner to make a difference in the world. We build relationships among families, educators, and the community to promote the healthy development and academic achievement of every learner. " The Portland Promise is comprised of 4 goals: Achievement (Academics), Whole Student (Social/emotional learning), Equity (rooting out systemic or ongoing inequalities) and lastly People (attracting the most talented and diverse people).

I do believe at it’s core the goals set forth by the district are very important. I do believe the district is committed to closing the achievement gap through curriculum, classroom supports, staff professional development and engaging with families. I do have concerns that the disruptions to learning in the past couple of years have impacted data that is used as benchmarks for the program’s success. I will reference data presented by the superintendent in his budget discussions with the city council this Spring. In the state comparison from 2016 to 2019 for the ELA Achievement Gap showed the Gap is decreasing by 2.2 % points when comparing PPS white students with PPS students of color which is encouraging. Unfortunately, there is no data on the past couple of years that was presented. I think it is fair to say that many students struggled academically during the pandemic period of remote learning and hybrid learning from March 2020 to the end of the school year in 2021 and then the beginning of this school year was once again disruptive as another Covid wave coincided with the start of the school year. It would seem the NWEA data from the Fall of 2021-2022 school year clearly indicates that proficiency scores for EL students and Sped students show a significant number of students are below standards in both ELA and Mathematics. I would like to hear what factors impacted these results, it was indicated throughout the pandemic that many students did not have adequate resources to engage in remote learning and that remote learning was extremely challenging for many families to manage, given that information it should be no surprise that there has been an academic backslide for many students. I do believe that the teachers going into this year prepared for this reality and have been working diligently to evaluate and reassess in their lesson planning to help improve students’ academic success. The next round of testing will hopefully show that the numbers of students who are below standard have decreased. It is important that administrators scrutinize the next round of metrics when they are available and responsibly assess the achievement gap. In addition to the academic back slide, the schools have been presented with many staffing issues, due to staff vacancies of unfilled positions and teachers who have been quarantined due to Covid. Also of note is widespread behavioral concerns within our schools which may lead to disruptions in classroom learning: both of these factors are not unique to Portland Public Schools. I think the fulltime reentry into school for students last year was a bumpy transition for most, as they returned to the structured environment of school and were finally able to interact with their peers; many for the first time in a long time. For some students may have experienced anxiety with this newfound widespread socialization with their peers. It has been noted that anxiety and depression for children and young adults has increased over the past few years. At the core of my platform is recognizing this and ensuring that our schools have the necessary resources to support students and faculty.

With regards to the concerns that certain students are being unfairly disciplined, I have been actively reviewing district policies which were last reviewed by the school board May 18th, 2021. My understanding is there are protocols in place to report and address this activity from occurring starting with reporting this to the principal and if not resolved at that level, then a reporting to the superintendent. Once reported there, personnel from that office would work to resolve the situation.

The following is from Portland Public School website> Board of Education> Board Policies, Board Docs; Book J Section: Students Code: JK Title: Student Discipline; Article 4

"Article 4 – Monitoring for and Intervening in Disciplinary Inequities

While this policy frames behavior management as a matter of positive interventions and supports, behavior management does involve actions, such as suspension or loss of privileges, that could be termed disciplinary consequences. Racial and other demographic disparities in disciplinary consequences are widely documented in research literature. The district and buildings should monitor for and intervene in discipline disparities that could signal inequity.

To that end, schools should share a system for disciplinary record keeping such that racial and other disparities in school discipline can be easily monitored by building and district leaders. This framework should not be limited to suspensions; it should include more common, lower-intensity interventions.

Furthermore, the Superintendent or designee shall review disciplinary disparities apparent by race, gender, LGBTQ+ identification (to the extent that identifying data and privacy allows), special education status, or other relevant categories with individual building leaders at least annually and plan with them building-level responses aimed at reducing disparities. This could include policy and practice changes or professional development for individuals or groups.

The Superintendent or designee shall also share district level disparity data with the Board annually and describe the responses being planned and implemented."


20-A MRS §§ 4009

17-A MRS § 106

The preceding articles in this book reference the positive behavioral interventions and supports or PBIS. The PBIS program focuses on five inter-related elements: equity, systems, data, practices and outcomes. PBIS implemented in every school is one of the strategies used to promote equity. My understanding is that the schools student discipline policy is reviewed annually by the school board, if elected I would be basing my review on the information that is provided. My hope is that each individual case that is presented to the superintendent or school administration would be thoroughly researched, at times there is not an understanding of the complete picture and situations are taken out of context. My goal would be to make certain that there is accountability and transparency for all actions involved.

As a candidate for the Portland Public Schools Board of Education, I will make every effort to do my research, learn these policies, and ask questions to gain a complete understanding. I want to make sure that each of the programs utilized in our schools are benefitting and ensuring equity for are students. I would encourage all parents, voters, etc. to familiarize yourself with the Board Docs and related Budget materials on the district's website.

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