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School board orders plan to address racial achievement gaps

Durham Public Schools’ academic performance improved over the last school year, but achievement gaps between the district’s Black and Hispanic students and other students remain stark. In a Sept. 28 meeting, the school board instructed the superintendent to develop a plan to shrink the disparities. 

In a unanimous vote, the board directed the superintendent, Pascal Mubenga, to return with an achievement plan by December of this year. 

According to a report presented to the school board, over 88% of DPS schools met or exceeded academic goals in 2022-23, and all demographic subgroups saw improvements between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The district’s Black students saw a 4.4% increase in academic proficiency while Hispanic students saw a 3.2% increase. White students saw a 3.5% increase, with a rise of 0.8% for Asian students, 4.5% for multi-racial students, and 1.5% for students with limited English proficiency. American Indian students saw a 20.2% increase.

But big disparities remain. The 2022-23 school year statistics, compiled by the district’s Offices of Research and Accountability and of Equity Affairs, show 39.5% of Black students and 37.4% of Hispanic students scored at or above proficiency on standardized tests. By contrast, 82.7% percent of white students, 63.3% of Asian students and 56.8% of multi-racial students met or exceeded the standards. Students with limited English proficiency had the lowest proficiency rates, with 18.4% meeting or exceeding proficiency. 

“Many of our students, including our Black and Hispanic students, are doing amazingly, academically and otherwise. But the reality also, once you dig into our data a little bit deeper, is that many of our Black and Hispanic students are really struggling academically,” said board member Jessica Carda-Auten. 

The achievement plan will break down student progress by race, ethnicity, and English language proficiency. The plan will also recommend methods to monitor the disparities and strategies to reduce the achievement gaps by 2028. 

The resolution builds on the 2023-28 Strategic Plan that was approved unanimously in May. 

A secondary goal is to address district suspension rates, with the aim of reducing the number of Black and Hispanic students suspended to five percent or lower. 

While 2022-23 data on school suspensions has not yet been released, in the 2021-22 school year, Durham Public Schools disproportionately suspended Black and Hispanic students. Out of every 1,000 Black students, roughly 197 faced short-term suspensions, as did 63 Hispanic students per 1,000. About 25 white students out of every 1,000 and 12 Asian students per every 1,000 faced short-term suspensions. 

The board also directed Mubenga to develop and lead a Black and Hispanic family advisory council to inform families of educational opportunities and seek input. This council will be selected by Fall 2024 and will work alongside the superintendent and the board to revise the achievement plan as needed. 

“We invest millions of dollars into proactive solutions to ensure student success, yet so many of our children are still struggling,” said board member Millicent Rogers. “Let’s pay attention to that investment.” 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained a misspelling of Superintendent Mubenga’s last name. The error has since been corrected.


Audrey Patterson