Questions, concerns about report showing academic racial disparities between students surface at Hinsdale District 86 meeting – Chicago Tribune

Following a presentation on academic disparities between students at the April 14 board meeting, Hinsdale High School District 86 community members came bearing questions on Thursday about the data shown.

Patrice Payne, director of instructional equity at District 86, explained a report at the April 14 meeting that showed racial disproportionality among students in disciplinary cases, support courses, a sense of “belongingness” and more.

Achievement gaps are the impact of implicit bias on students’ opportunities to learn, she said.

During Thursday’s audience communication portion of the board meeting, Darien resident Mary O’Dowd said she had hoped Payne stuck around to answer lingering questions people had about ongoing equity work.

“I’m glad Ms. Payne finally attended a board meeting. I’m sad that she left as soon as her presentation was over,” O’Dowd said. “Ms. Payne said implicit bias impacts student opportunities to learn — no concrete evidence was offered to support this theory.”

Payne’s presentation included several charts that showed unlevel bars between students of different races. Based on the data, for example, white and Asian students are overrepresented among students taking Advanced Placement courses, while African American and Hispanic or Latino students are underrepresented.

Payne also pointed to a chart that showed Black and brown student representation in special education courses was more than double. And while students who require individualized education programs should continue to receive the support they need, there is a trend of students of color being placed in special education courses misguidedly, she said.

Black or African American students account for 7.50% of the student body, but 16.04% of the students in the special education program are Black or African American, compared to white representation with individualized education programs, which is comparable to the overall student population, the report highlights.

“We saw several projections including seven charts, dated 2021, no updates were provided to reflect changes in the last 6 months. So how can we know what is accurate,” O’Dowd continued on Thursday. “These charts claim to show that implicit bias is to blame for racial disproportionality [ …] but no evidence was provided.”

With diversity, equity and inclusion being a frequent topic of discussion at District 86 board meetings, other members in the audience also chimed in.

Creighton Meland wondered if school districts are docked for having academic disparities.

“What are the consequences of disproportionality? Posting in a report, condemnation, fines? [Is there a] deprivation of state and federal aid? When do these take effect?” he asked the board.

On April 14, Payne discussed an informational tool recently launched by the Illinois State Board of Education to help school districts view their data through the lens of equity.

Jackie Matthews, Executive Director of Communications for ISBE, said in an email that the Equity Journey Continuum is really for districts to track their progress toward closing gaps in student achievement, opportunities, and support using district-level data points that are already collected and reported to ISBE. The scores will be listed on the ISBE district report card starting in October.

“There are no requirements associated with the tool and nothing to enforce regarding the tool. It is informational only and intended to help make districts’ data more useful to them in improving outcomes for all students,” Matthews said.

Meland also referenced Payne’s discussion on changing mindsets, saying, “culturally responsive methods have existed for over a decade, but there’s no proof they remedy any disparities.”

“Sorry but things that aren’t measured or can’t be measured did not happen. And what causes disparities goes beyond the schools doors — schools must nonetheless solve problems they did not cause. It is the triumph of hope over experience,” he added.

Regarding a Panorama survey that showed only 43% of District 86 students felt a sense of belonging at school, Meland said, “students are not guinea pigs in a social experiment and should not be surveyed. Beyond their creepy nature, surveys are not useful.”

Other conversations on Thursday centered on potentially adding a layer of oversight to instructional equity discussions that take place within the Culture and Equity Leadership Team (CELT).

“In terms of the equity work, I listened to every single board member at this table at one point or another, champion and commit to continuing the equity work, but the equity work that happens at CELT, happens in a superintendent’s committee,” board member Debbie Levinthal said.

“What I’m proposing is a place for the learning impact of that equity work to be discussed at the board level. If we’re going to champion it, we need to know about it … at least I want to be informed about it.”

She added that something similar to the Parent Teacher Advisory Committee (PTAC) could be distinct and focused on the learning portion of the district’s equity initiative.

Newly elected board president, Erik Held, said robust committees like PTAC can be modified to focus on certain areas to look at data, but it runs the risk of being too specific.

“In my opinion, equity is in all that we do …. we want to be careful of micromanaging when it comes to an added layer of oversight,” he said.

The next CELT meeting is scheduled for May 17 and a board presentation about CELT is slated to take place in June.

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