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B-A Middle School chosen for achievement gap program

The Bellwood-Antis Middle School is among 16 schools chosen last week to participate in a program designed to show how the achievement gap can be reduced in an effective manner.
“This is an initiative by the State Board of Education, specifically the Council of Basic Education,” said Don Wagner, administrative assistant in charge of curriculum and federal programs at the Bellwood-Antis School District. “Their goal is to reduce the achievement gap in schools throughout the state.”
The Chair of the State Board of Education’s Council of Basic Education, Luis Ramos, explained how Bellwood-Antis and the other schools were chosen to be a part of the pilot program.
“We went to the intermediate units and we asked them to seek out schools which were willing to volunteer to be a part of it,” said Ramos. “We actually had about 30 schools volunteer, but due to funding we were only able to select 16.
“We also wanted a statewide representation, a regional mix and a cross section of (social and economic) groups.”
So, just what is the achievement gap?
“What they have found is the majority of the white students throughout the state tend to do better than the subgroups throughout the state on standardized tests specifically the PSSA,” Wagner told The Daily Herald. “The subgroups are ethnic minorities or poor economically-disadvantaged students.”
Districts which had achievement gaps were asked to detail those gaps. Wagner noted most districts throughout the state were found to have such gaps.
“Sixteen districts throughout the state were chosen to participate in the program,” said Wagner. “What they (the State Board and Council) will do is provide a lot of support. They’ll send us to a school somewhere in the U.S. which has successfully reduced the achievement gap.”
Wagner explained Bellwood-Antis would then gain information from that school and in turn implement measures to reduce its achievement gap and serve as a model for other schools.
“We are pretty excited to have this opportunity and the support from the state,” said Wagner. “We are really anxious to reduce the gap. One of the reasons we were interested was because of the fact, at the middle school we were placed on a warning list because our economically disadvantaged subgroups didn’t meet state requirements in math.
“The school district prides itself on academic achievement and that is not acceptable to us,” he explained. “Any support we can get to reduce that gap we are convinced would be a good opportunity.”
Ramos noted its the Board of Education’s opinion, it takes more than teachers and schools to deal with the gap issue.
“We are trying to bring a belief to the educational community and overall community that every child can perform at a proficient level,” explained Ramos. “Teachers face a challenge and we are trying to engage the whole community not solely teachers on this.
“We created oversight teams at a local level to search out and identify ‘best practices,’” said Ramos. “This includes religious, business, political and educational leaders.
“The data shows when the community is involved you get better results,” said Ramos.
Now that the schools have been chosen, a conference has been scheduled in June. District and state officials will meet and lay out the ground work as to how each district will participate in the pilot program.
Schools are expected to participate in one of three ways: to show how their practices have helped deal with the achievement gap, to gain needed help to deal with the problem and to learn from others schools outside the state to see how they have dealt with the issue successfully.