In 2019, Building Our Future was offered the opportunity for a team of backbone staff and partners to be part of StriveTogether’s Equitable Results Series, an intensive 10-month program designed to equip us as leaders with skills in Annie E. Casey’s Results Count™* framework, including adaptive leadership, holding accountability for equitable results, and using oneself as an instrument of change. This is the first article in a 2-part series.
In partnership with the Kenosha Public Library (KPL) and Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD), our team set out to improve early grade reading outcomes and decrease racial disparities at two elementary schools: Curtis Strange Elementary and Grant Elementary. By joining forces and leveraging different organizational strengths, our team's challenge was to demonstrate how, by focusing on data, continuous improvement, and adaptive leadership, we could start to move the needle in literacy outcomes at a student- and school-level.
Before deciding what we would do, we had to start with the big result--
ALL children in Kenosha County complete 3rd grade reading at grade level.
From there, we set a goal:
50% of 3rd graders overall at Grant Elementary & Curtis Strange Elementary score proficient in the 2020
Forward exam ELA (English-Language Arts), with 50% of Black 3rd graders scoring proficient.
This goal was set using the idea of Targeted Universalism--that in order to move a population level results, we must target strategies towards the groups that are disproportionately burdened by the system, while also enacting universal strategies that will lead to changing systems so they work for all students.
Although ambitious, StriveTogether guided our team to identify and refine strategies to meet this target over the course of the program by continually naming and validating factors with families, tying strategies and tactics to those specific factors, and holding the result as our line of sight. Through this process, the team identified two overarching strategies with multiple components for each, visually shown here:
The two that this team specifically dug in around were:
Using the Plan-Do-Study-Act tool, our team developed and tested one targeted and one universal approach. What we did, and how that will be applied, is summarized here:
This work, obviously, all took place pre-COVID. Given the changes and stresses our community has undergone in the last couple months, we know there will be a new normal. We know these strategies will need to shift and reshape in order to support our students and families. We also know that out of crisis can come innovation, and there is, now more than ever, an increasing urgency around changing our systems so they work for ALL children. The learnings we took from this program were not around specific strategy, but rather are around process to determine the strategies. Using this process, with fidelity, will help our community to find a new normal grounded in equity. This work will continue, and we will apply what we’ve collectively learned to our new future. Stay tuned for Equitable Results Series Part 2: The Lessons.
*Results Count™ is grounded in two frameworks:
Research has shown that third grade reading proficiency is a powerful predictor of later academic achievement. Children are learning to read until third grade, yet after, they are reading to learn. Because of the number of young children in our community who are below proficiency in reading, it’s important to support and participate in opportunities to help them reach their highest academic potential so they can succeed in school and life.
“My student was not into tutoring when we first started and by the end of it he was reading 6 books per session,” mentioned one tutor. “It was a struggle but I thought it was important to show him to not give up.” A committed and kind-hearted tutor, willing to give their time, can help make the difference in a child’s education.
From 2016-17 to 2017-18, the overall percent of third graders in our community who are grade-level proficient in reading dropped from 45% to 39%. To increase proficiency, Kenosha has a program that works with students who are below grade level. In 2017, United Way recruited 74 tutors for their Readers Are Leaders program. This year they have 200 tutors. Not only that, but the program has expanded from its flagship location at McKinley Elementary to now being available at Wilson Elementary, Brass Community School, and Forest Park Elementary for the 2018-2019 school year, all in Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD).
Community members who have been tutoring this year have also been given a lot of support in being a part of this program. “Having been a mentor with KUSD for years it was surprising how different Readers Are Leaders is,” Bunny Stoops, another tutor, said. “I really appreciated the training handouts and found them useful when I went to the school.”
Now that we’re into the new school year, United Way’s Readers Are Leaders are looking for additional motivated individuals who have 40 minutes to spare during the week to volunteer with our kindergarteners, making sure they have the best start in learning to read. Kindergarten tutors will start in February, but applications for kindergarten tutors will be available now until Friday, January 4th, 2019, with training on January 21st.
How To Get Involved
Words might be one of the most powerful tools we as humans have. As a partnership whose role is to bring our Kenosha County community together to improve student outcomes, we know words have the power to inspire people together towards action, or to divide and “other” groups that are different from us. When phrases are embedded in our everyday language, it can be difficult to take a step back and think about the broader meaning behind the words. But, we believe that using continuous improvement and being reflective in our work is the only way for us to move forward.
That’s why we encourage you to consider flipping a script that you may not even know that you have, and that we’ve also used. In education, it has become widely understood that there is an “achievement gap” that exists. This is most often used to describe the difference in academic outcomes between student groups--typically, between white students and students of color. Now, it is helpful to have a common language so that when people come together to create solutions, everyone is on the same page sooner and can help move the conversation further. And, we want to make certain that we’re creating positive narratives that will encourage all our Kenosha County students to achieve their full potential.
In recent years, some have suggested replacing “Achievement Gap” with “Opportunity Gap.” The word “Achievement” very subtly attributes lower rates of academic success to the students themselves, or to the schools, rather than to the unequal and inequitable distribution of educational opportunities to different student groups and neighborhoods. This shift may also change our mindsets as we work together to identify solutions that lead to more equitable outcomes. Opportunities for students to choose and own books in their own home, attend high-quality early childhood education, participate in summer camps, and build relationships with adults with varying careers and post-secondary credentials, all have a compounding effect on a student’s achievement over their lifetime.
The issue, therefore, is an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap. Our hope is that this re-frame will inspire us to continue working together towards systems change--leading to systems where all of our students have access to equitable opportunities to support and promote their learning and success.
How You Can Help: