Minding the Achievement Gap

by Russ Gregg, Head of School

If you’ve ever ridden on the London Underground, you’ve heard the recorded message warning travelers getting on the train to “mind the gap”.

Here at Hope we are minding a very different gap-the achievement gap. But not all educators seem to mind.

Earlier this month I participated in a roundtable discussion coordinated by the Junior League of Minneapolis. The topic was how to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and I was one of four panelists-two of whom were public school educators.

After I defined the achievement gap, sharing that the size of the gap is larger in Minnesota than in any other state-I expected a substantive discussion on methods our respective schools are using to close the gap.

To my utter dismay, however, the other three panelists proceeded to deny that the achievement gap was a significant problem.  I sat stunned as they explained away the poor test scores in a whole variety of ways, saying things like:

“Standardized tests only measure a very narrow kind of intelligence…”

“There are plenty of people who don’t test well, but who still end up being successful in life…”

 “So many students are English Language learners, and so results on standardized tests are going to be low…”

This is my favorite-

“My students have so many issues outside of school, that they aren’t motivated to take the tests-they are really much smarter than how they test…”

I couldn’t help but feel pity for the students attending these schools, and I was convinced again of how vitally important our work is here at Hope Academy.

Here at Hope, standardized testing is important for holding teachers accountable, for demonstrating student mastery of academic content, and for targeting our interventions on students who are not making the grade.

By God’s grace, we are seeing amazing results in closing the achievement gap, with 97% of our high school students with 2+ years at Hope reading at or above grade level; and 88% of these same students performing at or above grade level in math.

The greatest evidence of closing the gap, however, are the post-graduation plans of our first class of seniors, who are graduating this spring. For many, they will be the first in their family to attend college. Here are just a few examples of their plans:

Merhawi Temnewo, for example, has received the $20,000 Horatio Alger Scholarship, and is receiving additional scholarship help to attend North Central University.

Giovanni Herrera has been offered a $40,000 scholarship to attend Concordia University (St. Paul), and hopes to receive a similar offer at Northwestern College, where he is accepted.

Leah Ferguson, a National Merit Finalist, has already been offered a full tuition scholarship to Cornell College (IA); and hopes to receive a full-ride offer from either Princeton or Dartmouth.

Alyssa Zink has been sworn in to the most selective military branch, the United States Air Force.

And all of our other seniors have been accepted at places like the College of St. Catherine’s (St. Paul), the University of Minnesota, Bethel University, Crown College, or Minneapolis Comm. & Technical College.

I am so grateful for your partnership in this important work of growing oaks of righteousness here in the inner city of Minneapolis.

One of you recently thanked me for being here in the front lines of the social justice movement in our country. All I could think to say was “right back at you.”