In his letter to the editor last week [OPRF’s gap is larger than most, Viewpoints, May 9], Scott Berman took exception my relative definition of the achievement gap. In my presentation of publicly available test scores for the few area schools with similar demographics to Oak Park and River Forest High School, I argue that our school does a better job than most others on what really should matter: ensuring that all students achieve academic success. The absolute percentage of African-Americans who pass state standards at OPRF exceeds almost every other school with a meaningful population of such students. In our case, we also have white students who disproportionately achieve. When Mr. Berman subtracts the two results, he concludes that we have “a particularly bad case” of a problem.

Most careful thinkers will catch the incongruity of this logic. Mr. Berman confirms that “no one wants the achievement of white students to decline.” If, then, white students at every other high school in our cohort achieved the 85 percent average passing frequency of white students at OPRF, our school would have the smallest absolute achievement gap among similar schools by a wide margin.

In presenting this data, I stated, “The percentage of African-American students at OPRF who meet state standards in the Prairie State Achievement Tests should satisfy nobody.” Nonetheless, Mr. Berman characterizes my analysis as an “attempt to explain away the OPRF High School achievement gap.” To the contrary, I recognize that we can do better and anticipate that all stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, community, and administration – together can solve this seemingly intractable problem.

Strategy discussions on how to raise African-American student achievement, however, should start with frank assessments. We should take inventory of both our strengths and weaknesses as measured by standardized results, articulate tangible goals with which all stakeholders can agree, and then compile an action plan that details expectations for each party in the agreement. As I expressed previously, I feel that our community has a better chance at resolving this situation than most because we start from a position of strength. We just need to get to work and demand that every stakeholder keeps their end of the bargain.

Sean Kelley

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