By Aja Witt
Student diversity has more than doubled in Iowa’s K-12 public schools in the past 15 years.
In 2000-01, minorities made up 9.7 percent of all enrollment. By 2015-16, minority students were 22.6 percent of all students enrolled in Iowa public schools, according to the 2016 Annual Condition of Education Report by the Iowa Department of Education.
In Iowa City, one-third of students enrolled in public schools during the 2015-16 school year were minorities. But this increase in diversity has not come without its drawbacks.
The Iowa Department of Education recently released its Postsecondary Readiness Reports findings, which showed that there continues to be an achievement gap among black and Latino students and Asian-American and white students.
In 2015-16, the Iowa City School District reported that 50.1 percent of black students and 53.3 percent of Latino students grades 3-5, were proficient in reading. This was in stark contrast to 90.3 and 80.2 percent of Asian-American and white students.
“We have found that certain groups of our students that graduate do fine,” said School Board member Phil Hemingway. “But some groups … Hispanic and black students … We are not appreciably changing those achievement gaps with some students in our district.”
For grades third to fifth, math proficiency was even less with just 44 percent of black students and 49.6 percent of Latino students meeting the benchmark and 91.1 percent of Asian Americans and 79.5 percent whites being proficient.
The achievement gap remains when looking at black and Latino students grades sixth through eighth and ninth through 11th in reading and math as well.
School District Director of Curriculum Diane Schumacher said the achievement gap, which has continued over the past five years, may be attributed to a lack of opportunity, parental involvement, or the English language barrier for Latino students.
“We see the achievement gap with students who are coming from homes that maybe don’t have the same opportunities for educational experiences that some of our other students might,” Schumacher said. “Homes that wouldn’t be able to have their kids going to summer camp, getting outside tutoring, and maybe even some that wouldn’t have their kids accessing pre-school.”
The School District has found that students who have attended preschool are at a higher percentage of proficiency than those with no preschool, Schumacher said.
With this in mind, the board will look at new ways to increase opportunities for more students to attend preschool.
Other initiatives include an increase of teachers trained in language instruction education for English language learners, a multitier system of supports in reading and math, and Avid, a program with a mission of preparing all students for college readiness and success.
Frederick Newell, the founder of the Dream Center, an Iowa City nonprofit organization, said his performing-arts academy is also introducing a Read & Dream program aimed at improving reading proficiency, speed, and comprehension for students in the community.
“We just started a program called Read & Dream that focuses on helping kids to read as well as helping them to do some goal-setting around dreams,” Newell said. “Our performing-arts academy has become a way that even our youth have been able to mentor other kids in our community.”