Rush-Henrietta Closing Gaps in Academics, Behavioral Data

  • The Rush-Henrietta Central School District is proud of the academic achievement demonstrated by students in every corner of our diverse community, and grateful to residents for providing the support necessary to make this happen. At the same time, the district is pleased with the progress it has made in helping students become better citizens.

    An inquiry by the Democrat and Chronicle recently helped us to appreciate more fully the many positive changes our district has experienced during the past decade. We would like to share the newspaper’s questions –  and our findings – with you. First, though, let’s review some of the recent recognition our district has received for its efforts.

    Rush-Henrietta Recognized for Improvement, Excellence
    This past spring, the New York State Education Department recognized Rush-Henrietta Senior High School as a High Performing Reward School for a second consecutive year. Importantly, this honor acknowledges outstanding student achievement and recognizes the significant progress that our district has made in closing gaps in student achievement among subgroups.

    This recognition is given on a highly selective basis. There are more than 4,800 individual schools in New York, and less than 75 from Upstate New York were chosen for this honor. The only other Monroe County schools recognized were Brighton High School, Honeoye Falls-Lima Senior High School, Penfield Senior High School, and Pittsford-Mendon High School.

    In addition, Rush-Henrietta Senior High School earned a silver ranking for the second year in a row in U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best High Schools in America poll. That places our Senior High School among the top 11 percent of schools in the nation. The rankings emphasize student outcomes, incorporating data on graduation rates and state assessments.

    Finally, as part of USA Today Network's New York State School Quality Index, the
    Democrat and Chronicle unveiled a list of best public school districts in Monroe County. This new index took into account “non-academic factors that parents say they value, but can be hard to measure.” We like to refer to this as a measure of school climate. The rankings were based on data regarding class sizes, diversity, suspension rates, attendance rates, and teacher experience, among other factors. Rush-Henrietta ranked as the No. 1 school district in all of Monroe County.

    This progress has not happened by accident. It has required careful planning, a commitment by our administrators, teachers, and staff members, and the continued support of our community.

    A Request from the Local Newspaper
    The Democrat and Chronicle recently asked all local school districts to review data for a story it is doing regarding disparities between black students and white students in particular academic and behavioral areas.

    Specifically, the newspaper is examining the percentage of students from both subgroups who take Advanced Placement classes, as well as the percentage of both that were suspended during the 2015-2016 school year. That is the most recent year that information has been made available to the public by the government.

    The newspaper wrote: “To summarize, in every district in Monroe County plus Victor, black students are less likely to be enrolled in (Advanced Placement) courses, more likely to be suspended, and for longer duration, and are at least one grade level behind white students on average (or, otherwise, have too few black students to measure).”

    In response, Rush-Henrietta reviewed 10 years worth of district historical data. The data shows that, while black students are suspended more often than white students, the gap has narrowed consistently for the past decade.

    A Review of Out-of-School Suspension Data
    When the Democrat and Chronicle asked Rush-Henrietta about the difference in out-of-school suspension rates between black students and white students, we immediately thought about the specific actions we have taken to make our schools a safer and more comfortable environment for all.

    We acknowledge that there is a difference in suspension rates between black and white students, and we are proud of the work we have done in recent years to close the gaps. Our district will do more work centered on cultural awareness (in conjunction with district groups such as the Rush-Henrietta Multicultural Parent Committee), continue revising our curriculum and programs to be more responsive to all learners, and improve communication between the district and families.

    A check of the suspension data provided by the Democrat and Chronicle indicates that it is not exact, but a good representation of what we reported.

    When reviewing Rush-Henrietta data, the percent of students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions (based on total enrollment of students in each subgroup) is as follows:

    Percentage of Black Students Receiving One or More Out-of-School Suspension Has Declined

    2011: Black Students: 7.9%; White Students: 2.5%; All Students: 3.6%
    2013: Black Students: 6.2%; White Students: 2.2%; All Students: 2.8%
    2015: Black Students: 6.7%; White Students: 2.7%; All Students: 3.8%
    2017: Black Students: 5.7%; White Students: 2.5%; All Students: 3.1%

    Since 2011, the percentage of black students who have been suspended one or more times has decreased by more than 38 percent. We note with interest that the district launched its Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports initiative in 2009.

    Difference in Number of Black vs. White Students Receiving Out-of-School Suspension Shrinks

    Since 2011, the likeliness that black students are to be suspended out-of-school more than white students also has decreased significantly, from a ratio of 3.16 to 1 in 2011 to a ratio of 2.25 to 1 in 2017.

    Ratio of White Students to Black Students Taking Advanced Placement Courses

    2011: 3.16 to 1
    2013: 2.81 to 1
    2015: 2.48 to 1
    2017: 2.25 to 1

    These changes have not happened by chance. In partnership with the Rush-Henrietta community, the district has been working to enhance the school experience for all students. These data points are further examples of our how efforts are making a difference.

    Here are some of the ways our district has improved the school climate and put an emphasis on more positive student behavior during the past decade.

    1) Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
    Nearly a decade ago, to create safer, more caring learning environments, Rush-Henrietta began using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. In doing so, each school established clear rules for appropriate behavior. PBIS works by identifying, monitoring, teaching, and reinforcing these expectations: Be responsible, be respectful, be trustworthy, be caring, and be ready to learn.

    Each Rush-Henrietta school uses discipline data to determine which behaviors most inhibit our student’s ability to feel comfortable in school, reducing the likelihood they will make the most of their school experience. The data, along with new lesson plans, support each school’s behavioral matrix. The matrix is a chart displaying desired behaviors on the left-hand side, as well as places we want to see this good behavior – the hallway, library, playground, cafeteria, and auditorium, for example – along the top. Expected behaviors are consistent in each school, but settings differ at elementary, middle, or high school levels. For example, the playground is a logical location for an elementary school, while locker rooms might be more appropriate at the high school.

    By faithfully using PBIS for the past decade, the vast majority of students respond appropriately to our efforts and consistently follow behavioral expectations. We continue to provide support for those who do not.

    2) Adhering to the Code of Conduct
    In Rush-Henrietta, we don’t just have a student Code of Conduct, we adhere to it.

    The district believes that discipline is most effective when it deals directly with a problem at the time and place it occurs, and in a way that students view as fair and impartial. Staff who interact with students are expected to use disciplinary action only when necessary and to place emphasis on the student’s ability to grow and develop as citizens.

    When necessary, disciplinary action must be timely, fair, and consistent to be the most effective in changing student behavior. If a student violates the Code of Conduct, the goal is to develop interventions that effectively deal with the root cause of the behavior, help the student modify the negative behavior, and make better decisions in the future. Our desire is that students (and their families) who violate the Code of Conduct will view the discipline process as a learning experience and not solely a punitive judgment.

    3) Developing Suspension Guidelines
    In Rush-Henrietta, disciplinary action is applied as equally as possible from student to student using Suspension Guidelines that were approved by the Board of Education in 2016. This spells out disciplinary action for students depending on what type of offense they have committed, and how many times they have committed a similar offense.

    Rush-Henrietta is one of the few school districts in Monroe County to have written Suspension Guidelines. By using these guidelines, administrators have a better ability to help ensure that all students are treated fairly based on their circumstances. These guidelines help remove a lot of guesswork from the process by building in a consistency that wasn’t always present.

    Students often are given an opportunity to return to school earlier than expected. This happens only when the student agrees to participate in other activities, such as meeting regularly with a counselor who can help address the root issues that led to the discipline.

    4) Instituting Restorative Practices
    The aim of restorative practices is to develop a sense of community and to manage conflict and tension by building relationships and repairing harm. Restorative practices, including circles and conferences, provide a safe environment for people to express and exchange emotion. Their use is designed to improve human behavior; build relationships; increase civility in society; reduce violence, crime and bullying; repair harm; and restore relationships.

    Rush-Henrietta is moving ahead quickly in this regard, having started a restorative practices initiative last year. More than 50 staff members from Rush-Henrietta Senior High School and Webster Learning Center were trained during the prior school year as part of a pilot program. This year, we have expanded the program to all of our schools. As many as 100 staff members are attending three-day community-building circle training sessions provided by Partners in Restorative Initiatives.

    A Review of Advanced Placement Participation
    When The Democrat and Chronicle contacted us, it stated that, in Rush-Henrietta, “43 of 780 black students take at least one (Advanced Placement) course, or 5.5 percent, compared to 262 of 3,396 white students, or 7.7 percent. That’s a 40 percent difference.”

    The data presented by the
    Democrat and Chronicle appears to be accurate. In reviewing that data and looking back several years, we determined that the gap here also is narrowing.

    In 2015, the ratio of white students to black students taking Advanced Placement courses was 1.40 to 1. In 2013, that ratio was 2.02 to 1, and in 2011 it was 2.38 to 1. Part of this change is that fewer white students in 2015 took Advanced Placement classes than they did two years before that.

    2011: 2.38 to 1
    2013: 2.02 to 1
    2015: 1.40 to 1

    However, it is important to note that, between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of black students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses steadily increased from 4.0 percent to 4.6 percent and then to 5.5 percent. Official data from 2017 is not yet available.

    Here are some ways we have helped improve the quality of academics during the past decade.

    1)  Common Curriculum, Common Assessments, and Progress Monitoring
    When Rush-Henrietta Senior High School was recognized as a Reward School recipient in 2017 and 2018, it provided important validation that its strategies are working.

    Two strategies teachers and administrators have embraced at the Senior High School in recent years are a commitment to a common curriculum and common assessments. By focusing on these areas, it is possible for teachers to plan for instruction collaboratively, share and compare data, and then honestly assess the effectiveness of their instruction.

    In addition, those who work at the school are deeply committed to progress monitoring. This practice provides valuable time for teams of teachers who lead the same course to meet together on a weekly basis to assess student progress and provide appropriate interventions designed to support their success.

    2) Expanding Opportunities for All Students
    Last year, students at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School took 792 Advanced Placement exams. Of those, 614 received a score of 3 or higher, equivalent to 78 percent. Many colleges will offer credit to students who score of 3 or higher on these exams. With an emphasis on making sure our students are prepared for college and a career, we continue to encourage students to consider taking these college-level classes.

    a district, we are always looking for ways to provide students with additional opportunities to achieve. For example, Rush-Henrietta recently removed
    prerequisites for some of our Advanced Placement courses so even more students are eligible to participate. In addition, next year, we will offer more Advanced Placement courses – such as AP Psychology – that do not have any prerequisites. We are doing this to offer more higher-level courses that are available to a broader group of students.

    3) Addressing Improvements Through District Priorities
    Rush-Henrietta’s desire is to help students achieve, grow, and thrive - now and later as members of society in their adult years. Our district priorities for 2018-2019 have been designed with these goals in mind. In addition to continuing our focus on strengthening our ELA and Math programs,  Rush-Henrietta is focused on three additional priorities - special education, inclusion and equity, and mental wellness. By continuing to address these areas, our district will continue to make progress in better meeting the needs of all students.