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Volume 6, Issue 3
February 2014

Closing the Academic Achievement Gap in East Lansing Receives Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award

  • Dorinda Carter Andrews, M.Ed., Ed.M., Ed.D.
  • Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education
  • College of Education
Photograph for Closing the Academic Achievement Gap in East Lansing Receives Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award

Dorinda Carter Andrews and East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) have been recognized with the 2014 Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award. Carter Andrews and ELPS collaborated on a project aimed at identifying the factors that contribute to academic underperformance for Black students, and are working to implement sustainable interventions to help close academic achievement gaps.

David B. Chapin, former ELPS superintendent, and Clifford M. Seybert, current ELPS superintendent, were recognized along with Dr. Carter Andrews at the Michigan State University Awards Convocation on February 11, 2014.

Carter Andrews is recognized nationally for her research on race and equity in education. She has partnered with school districts across the U.S. to address the academic needs of culturally diverse students. She earned a teacher certification in math (grades 7-12) from Georgia State University, a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, a master's degree in education from Vanderbilt University, and a master's and doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Shortly after arriving at MSU in 2005, Carter Andrews was invited to attend a dinner for Michigan school superintendents. Months later, during conversations about ACT scores and college readiness for African American students in the district, David Chapin, then ELPS superintendent, recommended Dr. Carter Andrews' work to Donna Rich Kaplowitz, a member of the ELPS school board.

"I met with Dr. Carter Andrews and shared our district data. In the 2007 ELPS Superintendent's Report the data indicated that none of our African American students were considered "college ready" on the ACT in all four fields assessed—math, English, science, and social studies," said Kaplowitz. "Because addressing the achievement gap and promoting educational equity were the main reasons I ran for school board, I was motivated by a sense of urgency and a passion to move ahead."

Research, Relevant Tools, Recommendations

Carter Andrews conducted an 18 month research study that included a first-ever student and staff school climate surveys, focus group interviews with Black students and parents, classroom observations, individual interviews with administrators, and analysis of several years of school data. This research was compiled into a comprehensive report presented to the ELPS school board and community in 2010. "Closing the Achievement Gap in East Lansing Schools: A Focus on African American Student Achievement Patterns—An 18 Month Review of the Achievement Gap Project" became a blueprint to address identified challenges, with specific, applicable, and relevant tools and recommendations.

"From the inception of her research and subsequent service to the district, Dr. Carter Andrews meticulously documented measurable differences in student academic performance and perceptions of students and adults regarding race. These findings led to a concerted effort on the part of the district to welcome eleven recommendations from her comprehensive research report," said Clifford Seybert, ELPS superintendent.

The report led to action items that include:

  • Two consecutive Diversity Conference events at East Lansing High School, planned and implemented by students
  • Leadership and Diversity clubs in Whitehills Elementary, MacDonald Middle School, and East Lansing High School
  • Eight ELHS students' attendance at a Student Leadership Conference in Massachusetts where they developed a planning document to effect change in their high school
  • A yearlong professional development course for ELPS teachers, entitled Teaching Across Cultural Differences
  • A district-wide cultural competency Professional Development Day
  • Achievement and equity seminars focused on academic achievement and equity
  • Public forums on achievement gap issues
  • Creation of the Achievement Gap Task Force
  • ELPS administrators' participation at the National Association of Black School Educators conference and the American Educational Research Association international conference, to increase knowledge base regarding strategies for achieving educational equity in the district
  • Presentation to the Michigan Association of School Administrators on ELPS's ongoing efforts to address academic achievement gaps
  • ELPS's budding relationship with the Minority Student Achievement Network, a group of like-minded and demographically similar districts working to raise the achievement of minority youth and the cultural competency of educators
  • Establishment by the East Lansing High School Parent Council of a subcommittee to focus on cultural inclusion and educational equity at ELHS

According to former superintendent David Chapin, the study led to changes in teaching and learning in the East Lansing Public School system. "Dorinda designed and led teachers through a professional development learning community designed to increase cultural competency. It has influenced the level of cultural competency in our schools and has enhanced learning opportunities for all students," said Chapin.

For Carter Andrews, research leads to usable knowledge and practice. "I approach the work with key questions. As a qualitative researcher, how can lived experiences help me evaluate the work? How can I use data-driven scholarship to assist community partners in making informed decisions?" said Carter Andrews.

Carter Andrews incorporates her scholarly products into presentations and conversations with community participants. "I want the community—teachers, parents, students and others—to be able to read the articles and reports, and then understand the data. And I must have stories to complement the numbers, it has to be relevant to what challenges they are facing, and what can be done to improve those challenges. Understanding the research can help them make a plan of action," she said.

Addressing a sensitive topic such as unequal achievement, Carter Andrews has approached the conversations with examples of cultural background versus the culture of schooling. "We explain to students that there is standard, academic language that is called for at certain points, and how do we cultivate their ability to adapt to the culture of schooling? We need to be able to help these young people adapt, and explain why we do the adapting, without diminishing who they are," she said.

Donna Kaplowitz considers Carter Andrews' research and project partnership beneficial to promoting racial equity at the school district level. "Providing multiple ways of publicly addressing the achievement gap, bringing language and meaning to a formerly covert issue has been essential in moving the district closer to its goal of closing the academic achievement gap. Admittedly, there is much work to be done, but Dr. Carter Andrews' work on the achievement gap in East Lansing Public Schools is the single most important partnership the district has undertaken in the last decade," Kaplowitz said.

MSU's Outreach Scholarship Community Partnership Award is conferred annually and provides University-wide recognition of highly engaged community-based research collaborations that positively impact both the community and the scholarship of MSU faculty work.

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photographs courtesy of MSU Photography Services