Montgomery County organization aims to open dialogue on race

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. – As students in Montgomery County get back into the swing of a new year, parents and community leaders are working to address issues that minority students face in the classroom.

It's part of an ongoing effort by the Montgomery County Dialogue on Race organization. One of the key issues they're working to address at a community meeting on Saturday, the achievement gap.

An achievement gap happens when one group of students outperforms another group and the difference between the scores is significant.

The Department of Education released scores last week. WSLS10 was able to take a closer look at how the gap in scores has changed over the past several years.

Testing scores have been on the rise over the past three years for black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students in Montgomery County. As a whole, their English reading scores have jumped from a combined average of 63 percent pass rate in 2015 to a 69 percent pass rate in 2017.

But the overall scores on the tests are on the rise as well, up to an 83 percent pass rate now compared to just 76 percent two years ago.

Now community leaders are working to close the gap between the most recent scores, something they'll address this weekend.

"We already knew the most important thing," says Wornie Reed, a professor of sociology and Africana studies at Virginia Tech. "That is to look at the scores, address them and be honest about them. As a result of that, some things have improved a bit."

This Saturday, all parents, students and teachers are invited to continue the conversation at the Dialogue on Race meeting. They'll be talking about the education issues faced in the classroom and ways they can be addressed.

"These are our children we're talking about. There is no room for intimidation. There is no room to go home and say, 'I was not comfortable talking.' No. We have to be comfortable talking about this," says Penny Franklin, president of the Dialogue on Race community group.

Martha Ann Stallings, the education issues chairperson for the Dialogue on Race, says research shows factors like the achievement gap in testing scores can lead to bigger issues for students down the road.

"We know drop out is always going to be connected to academic achievement," she says. "Students who are successful in classrooms want to be in school. Students who are treated fairly in classrooms want to be there to learn. As far as I'm concerned, there's no student who wants to drop out of school."

Meeting organizers say having these students come together to talk about their experiences can have a big impact on the future of students in Montgomery County.

The meeting will start at 5 p.m. at Nellie's Cave Park in Blacksburg. For more details, click here.