In another context, how the Clark County School District fails minority students would be considered evidence of racism.
Last school year, only 20 percent of Clark County students tested proficient in English Language Arts. In math, it was 11.5 percent. Those results are from the Smarter Balance Assessments, which Nevada’s third- through eighth-graders are supposed to take yearly. They didn’t have to take the test during the 2019-20 school year because of the pandemic.
The results are even worse for Black and Hispanic students. Just 10.2 percent of African American kids tested proficient in English. In math, that number is a jaw-dropping 3.9 percent. For Hispanic students, the numbers are 15.7 percent in English and 7.4 percent in math.
This failure is widespread. There were 22,200 African American students in third through eighth grade last year. More than 140 schools enrolled at least 50 Black students in those grades. Just 21 schools had 20 or more African American students test proficient in English. In math, only three schools met that criteria. Three.
The district enrolled 67,700 Hispanic students in those grades. In 206 schools, there were 100 or more Hispanic students in the third through the eighth grades. Only 81 schools, however, had 40 or more Hispanic students test proficient in English. That includes a few schools with fewer than 100 Hispanic students, too. In math, just 18 schools met that benchmark. Calculations are based on Nevada Report Card data, and small rounding errors are possible.
Asian and white students experienced significant drop-offs in performance, too. In 2020-21, Asian students tested proficient in English and math at a rate of 32.8 percent and 25 percent, respectively. For white students those numbers were 32.5 percent in English and 21.9 percent in math. Compared to 2018-19, the drop in each category is between 29 to 37 percentage points.
One of the reasons that the numbers are so low is that nearly half of district students didn’t take the test. The U.S. Department of Education usually requires 95 percent of district students to participate. Every other Nevada school district got close. The Washoe County School District tested 93.6 percent of students. Clark County’s participation rate, however, was just 54.1 percent.
In most years, it makes sense to assume the missing 5 percent of students can be ignored without noticeably skewing results.
But that’s not a reasonable assumption after a year of distance learning, when tens of thousands of students struggled even to log into classes. It’s reasonable to assume many of those students learned little to nothing. That makes it likely the students who didn’t test were those who learned the least and hence would score the lowest.
In other circumstances, racial disparities such as this have drawn Superintendent Jesus Jara’s ire and led to dramatic policy changes. He relaxed the district’s discipline policy in an attempt to reduce the disproportionate number Blackmales being suspended. He pared back entrance requirements for magnet programs, which included a disproportionate number of Asian students.
This summer, Jara and some school board members made a big deal about the need to enact an “anti-racism” policy. Discrimination is already illegal, but anti-racism advocates contend race-neutral processes that lead to racial disparities are examples of racism.
If that’s the standard, the district itself is hopelessly racist — not just widely incompetent — when comes to educating children. Look at those test results. If Jara and school trustees were intellectually consistent, they would give minority students ways to escape the failed system they run. Funding school vouchers and inviting charter operators to run low-performing schools are two options.
Jara and the trustees shouldn’t be searching for racism in race-neutral policies. They should confront their own failure to providing an adequate — let alone excellent — education to minority students.