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Oxford’s achievement gap is the widest in the state

The gap between Oxford’s haves and have-nots is becoming more evident among students after a report published Thursday shows the district has the widest achievement gap in Mississippi between black and white students, as well as between poor and more affluent students.

On Thursday, the Mississippi State Department of Education published numbers that detailed those divides in an easily accessible manner, part of a federal push to make sure high scores among students at large don’t disguise problems in subgroups.

Statewide, African-American students run 29 percentage points behind white students in academic proficiency, while poor students trail richer ones by 27 percentage points. Students with disabilities trail those without by 25 percentage points.

Oxford’s gaps are almost double the state’s averages.

The achievement gap between white and black students in the Oxford School District is 51.7 overall and economically advantaged and disadvantaged students have a 46.5 achievement gap.

The gap is highest in reading and language arts where white students are 73.6 proficient and black students are 23.9 proficient, creating a 49.7 gap. In math, white students are 73.3 proficient and black students are 29 percent proficient, leaving a 44.3 gap. The lowest gap occurs in science where the achievement gap is 32.7, with white students being 93.9 proficient in science and 61.2 percent of black students are proficient.

In history, white students scored an 87.2 proficient compared to a 46.1 in black students, leaving a 41.2 percent gap.

“We are currently evaluating programs and practices that are targeted to improving the achievement gap and are effective for increasing achievement for all students,” said OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey.

“This is not and never has been a one approach solution. We have to identify instructional and other strategies that are effective. Our board, our leadership team, and our teachers and staff are committed to helping all students achieve. All means all.”

The OSD is not alone — some of Mississippi’s most highly regarded districts have the broadest achievement gaps.

“In order to ensure that all students are proficient and showing growth and that every student is graduating from high school ready for college and career, we must begin addressing achievement gaps in Mississippi,” state Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement.

Among Mississippi districts, the achievement gap tends to be most severe in districts that serve a diverse mix of students, with some very high achievers. Even students on the wrong end of a divide in higher-performing districts can be scoring higher than students in lower-performing districts. On the other hand, gaps are narrow in some districts because all students are performing poorly.

Attention has focused on Oxford’s achievement gap in recent months, after school officials considered a separate, voluntary school for low-achieving students, modeled on similar schools in Virginia. Some community members interpreted that proposal to mean that affluent Oxford was going to build a school to segregate poor black students, prompting uproar and leading the school system to quickly announce in September that it would stop looking at the idea.

Reaction to the story spread far and wide, gaining national attention and sparking discussions throughout the Oxford community. People of all races took to social media within hours, coming out against the idea of a separate school for children on free lunch plans. Many called the idea racist and said it returned Oxford to the days of segregation. Some even threatened to pull their students out of the district altogether. Parents and students held quiet, peaceful protests.

Harvey, and the OSD Board of Trustees, later apologized to the community.

“Our goal is to be sure that every student who walks through the doors of any of our schools has an equal opportunity to succeed. We want to provide the support and resources we can to ensure that goal is realized. We intend to close our achievement gap. We are evaluating a number of alternatives that have worked in other parts of the country,” the trustees said in a joint statement in October.

Harvey said that despite September’s controversy he’s still focused on helping students who are black, poor, or have disabilities to score better, but needs help from outside the school.

“We have to change the culture in a positive way and start with the expectation that all communities can achieve,” Harvey said.

While Lafayette County School District’s gap was higher than the state’s average, it was lower than Oxford’s gap.

The achievement gap between white and black students in Lafayette schools is 33.5, and economically advantaged and disadvantaged students have a 21.4 achievement gap.

Superintendent Adam Pugh could not be reached this morning for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

In history, white students scored an 87.2 proficient compared to a 46.1 in black students, leaving a 41.2 percent gap.

“We are currently evaluating programs and practices that are targeted to improving the achievement gap and are effective for increasing achievement for all students,” said OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey.

“This is not and never has been a one approach solution. We have to identify instructional and other strategies that are effective. Our board, our leadership team, and our teachers and staff are committed to helping all students achieve. All means all.”

The OSD is not alone — some of Mississippi’s most highly regarded districts have the broadest achievement gaps.

“In order to ensure that all students are proficient and showing growth and that every student is graduating from high school ready for college and career, we must begin addressing achievement gaps in Mississippi,” state Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement.

Among Mississippi districts, the achievement gap tends to be most severe in districts that serve a diverse mix of students, with some very high achievers. Even students on the wrong end of a divide in higher-performing districts can be scoring higher than students in lower-performing districts. On the other hand, gaps are narrow in some districts because all students are performing poorly.

Attention has focused on Oxford’s achievement gap in recent months, after school officials considered a separate, voluntary school for low-achieving students, modeled on similar schools in Virginia. Some community members interpreted that proposal to mean that affluent Oxford was going to build a school to segregate poor black students, prompting uproar and leading the school system to quickly announce in September that it would stop looking at the idea.

Reaction to the story spread far and wide, gaining national attention and sparking discussions throughout the Oxford community. People of all races took to social media within hours, coming out against the idea of a separate school for children on free lunch plans. Many called the idea racist and said it returned Oxford to the days of segregation. Some even threatened to pull their students out of the district altogether. Parents and students held quiet, peaceful protests.

Harvey, and the OSD Board of Trustees, later apologized to the community.

“Our goal is to be sure that every student who walks through the doors of any of our schools has an equal opportunity to succeed. We want to provide the support and resources we can to ensure that goal is realized. We intend to close our achievement gap. We are evaluating a number of alternatives that have worked in other parts of the country,” the trustees said in a joint statement in October.

Harvey said that despite September’s controversy he’s still focused on helping students who are black, poor, or have disabilities to score better, but needs help from outside the school.

“We have to change the culture in a positive way and start with the expectation that all communities can achieve,” Harvey said.

While Lafayette County School District’s gap was higher than the state’s average, it was lower than Oxford’s gap.

The achievement gap between white and black students in Lafayette schools is 33.5, and economically advantaged and disadvantaged students have a 21.4 achievement gap.

Superintendent Adam Pugh could not be reached this morning for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.