Students leave Samohi after school. (File photo)

Black and Hispanic students in Santa Monica-Malibu schools rank behind their peers on a variety of achievement measures, and officials say they are working to narrow gaps that are mirrored in districts across the country.

The Board of Education recently reviewed data showing academic disparities among segments of the student population, sparking a lengthy but somewhat jumbled discussion about race relations in the district.

The presentation was followed by passionate public testimony from parents and community members who alleged widespread discrimination of minority students and inequalities that they feel should be addressed by SMMUSD officials.

Officials said they’ve seen modest improvements on some measures but added that similar academic disparities have been recorded in the district over the last decade.

According to district Supt. Sandra Lyon, the district will roll out a series of programs next school year in an ongoing attempt to address the achievement gaps.

“It’s complex, layered work, but parents want to know, ‘What are you doing this year?”” she said. “Both subgroups continue to underperform, and that’s not good. We need to be looking at early warning indicators.”

Academic disparities

The data presented by Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of educational services, painted an alarming portrait of African-American and Latino students in local schools.

Their cumulative high school grade-point averages were listed at 2.5 and 2.6 respectively, significantly lower than their white (3.2) and Asian (3.5) counterparts.

They are underrepresented in Advanced Placement classes, and they don’t perform as well as their peers in those courses. Seventy-eight percent of white students in AP classes scored a 3 or above on at least one exam; that figure dropped to 57 percent for Hispanic students and 53 percent for black students.

Latino and black students complete A-G graduation requirements at lower rates than their peers, and dropout rates are highest among boys in those two demographic categories.

Deloria noted that Hispanic and black students are suspended more frequently than their white and Asian counterparts. Hispanic students also passed fewer physical fitness standards than their white and African-American peers.

“This is stuff that’s been happening in our district for many years,” board member Oscar de la Torre said. “I’m frustrated … This whole issue of institutionalized racism, it’s real. It’s a national problem. It’s part of our country’s history. But we can have those courageous conversations in our school district.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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