After attending high schools in Fresno Unified and Clovis Unified, Adonai Howard noticed stark differences.

“I feel like I learned more my freshman year at Clovis High School than I did the three years I was at Bullard High School,” Howard said. “The social life that I had at Bullard was better, but there’s a lot of things that I didn’t have (academically.)”

“I feel like I learned more my freshman year at Clovis High School than I did the three years I was at Bullard High School.” — Adonai Howard, member of Fresno Unified’s African American Academic Acceleration Task Force

Howard said she detected that something was wrong when she was just in the third grade. She found reading and math incomprehensible.

“I needed help, and didn’t know who to go to for it,” Howard said.

Fresno Unified’s African American Academic Acceleration Task Force hopes it can change the educational experience for students like Howard who, as a Fresno Unified graduate, became a task force member when it was created in October.

School board trustees approved the task force’s comprehensive list dedicated to improving student achievement among African Americans last week.

The move comes on the heels of the district’s approval of a $1.4 million low-performing students block grant. The grant should help close the achievement gap between African American students and their higher-achieving peers.

District Wants To Change The Current Narrative

The primary objective of the task force’s recommendations are to ensure students read at or above grade level and improve their performance in math and science, said Wendy McCulley, executive director of the task force.

Last year’s scores on the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment show that the district’s African American students scored 105.6 points below standard in math and 71.3 points below standard in English Language Arts. In the state, African Americans scored 51.8 points below standard in English Language Arts and 91.5 points below standard in math.

The task force also aims to increase high school graduation rates and improve the percentage of African Americans who are college and career ready.

The latest results on the California School Dashboard show that 27.1 percent of black students in Fresno Unified are prepared compared to 21.2 percent of black students in the state.

Strengthening Partnerships Is Key

The main way the task force plans to accomplish those goals is by strengthening partnerships and engagement between African American family members, teachers, staff and administrators at school sites, said McCulley.

“The task force agreed that an inclusive model of family engagement is essential to improving the academic outcomes of African American students,” she said.

Increasing access to more programs such as GATE and early learning opportunities, as well as hiring more African American teachers, are other goals, McCulley said.

“I don’t speak much about myself in this work, but this is very personal for me because I am one of our kids,” McCulley said. “I grew up in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States, but because of the power of education, I stand before you now with Ivy League degrees.”

“I don’t speak much about myself in this work, but this is very personal for me because I am one of our kids.” — Wendy McCulley, executive director of the African American Academic Acceleration Task Force

Superintendent Impressed by Community Support

Superintendent Bob Nelson said he is hopeful McCulley and her team will succeed: “I am just inspired with hope because there are so many community members who want to do something different.”

Kehinde Solwazi has attended school board meetings since 1989 and has left many times frustrated after hearing reports on the poor academic performance of African American students.

However, at the board’s last meeting, Solwazi left satisfied.

“This is my first time coming here being very pleased on a way we can transform the educational product of our children,” said Solwazi, who is Professor Emeritus of African American Studies at Fresno City College.

Since the task force started last year, it has prompted Howard to re-evaluate her goals.

“I thank the task force for that because they helped me realize my worth, they helped me realize what I can be, and my true passion, which is educating the youth,” said Howard, who will re-enroll into Fresno City College next semester.

McCulley said the task force will work on an official rollout plan through the end of the year.

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2 Responses

  1. kennmeade

    This reader would like to share a data-based examination of the existence of an achievement gap nationally–one that can’t logically be said to reflect badly on what schools are doing.
    In thinking about the achievement gap, it is useful to consider national trends in average test performance for students who take an internationally recognized test, such as the SAT, for example.
    As indicated in the table, below, the All Student average for SAT Critical Reading hasn’t changed materially in recent decades— true as well for average scores of groups classified by race/ethnicity – except for Asian-Americans, who have closed the reading achievement gap How did they do it? Quien sabe.

    Table 1. SAT Critical Reading average selected years
    1987 ’97 2001 ’06 ’11 ’15
    507 505 506 503 497 495 All students
    524 526 529 527 528 529 White
    479 496 501 510 517 525 Asian/Pac
    457 451 451 454 451 448 Mex-Am
    436 454 457 459 452 448 Puerto R
    464 466 460 458 451 449 Oth Hisp
    471 475 481 487 484 481 Amer Ind
    428 434 433 434 428 431 Black
    SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.(2012).
    Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001), Chapter 2. SAT averages for
    college-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years,1986-87 through 2010–11
    Data for 2015

    If SAT averages haven’t changed materially for almost 30 years, despite the effort, time and money expended to improve educational programs for all students, it seems reasonable to assume that we shouldn’t expect any meaningful change in average performance in this critically important ability in the foreseeable future. Which leads to the $64 question: what if the achievement gap is here to stay? Of course, the fact that average reading scores haven’t declined, suggests that our schools must be doing something right!

  2. Edwin

    I applaud Wendy and her team. I also urge the district to examine its practices and identify internal inequities that may be root causes to AA student outcomes.

    In addition, money should not be the driving force of the work. It’s not sustainable. The next step if the district is really serious about the work is develop board policy and adm regulations to institutionalize the work and not the person.

    Keep on pushing Wendy. The board accepting the recommendations was really the easy part. The systemwide implementation of the recommendation will be your next challenge.

    Have the district office clear the political brush so you can implement.

    Lastly, if the recommendations are not clearly stated in the site’s SPSAs you have a challenge already.

    Good luck. Call if you need anything.


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