During a committee meeting on Monday, a suggestion was made to look at grade point average requirements for playing high school sports. School board member Deena Hayes-Greene, the chair of the district’s achievement gap committee, expressed concerns about the correlation between black male high school athletes and academic performance. Based on data, Hayes-Greene explained that most black male students playing sports are performing well athletically for the district, but are not as prepared for college as other students.
State test data from 2015 has shown significant performance gaps between black students and students of other races and ethnicities in Guilford County Schools. As the News and Record has reported, there was a difference of about 36 percentage points between the overall performance of black students and white students as measured by the tests. The report further showed that the proficiency rate for black students was lower than the rate for any other subgroup of students and the overall district average was 53.2 percent, according to the state test data from 2015.
Some schools are even lowering GPA standards to allow students to participate in sport teams despite low GPA scores. To fix this skewed standard, officials have issued a mandatory academic improvement plan for their students: in order to qualify for sport teams, you have to hit certain benchmarks to be able to play.
“That’s very exploitative to say, ‘We can lower academic requirements for you so you can play sports. We have our banners and have our victories, but you don’t have the requirement to get into college,” said Hayes-Greene in an interview with the News and Record.
The topic of discussion about grade-point averages for sports has come from a broader problem about how to close achievement gaps within the Guilford County Schools.
This has been a recurring problem in the Guilford District. School board members have often questioned the achievement gap in the performance of its students. Board members have shown patience when discussing this topic because of the sensitive nature of the situation; the achievement gap can relate back to other topics like racial inequality.
Even though this is a persistent topic, each board member seems to have their own way of solving the problem. Board member Pat Tillman expressed interest in practicing restorative justice on the school districts where there is an emphasis on dialogue and righting the harms done rather than punishing them. Board member Welborn expressed interest in recruiting more minority teachers into North Carolina school districts, while Superintendent Contreras stressed the importance of counselors and the need to include students of every race in advanced courses.
Superintendent Contreras recently gave a presentation at Bennett College for an education forum with an audience of mostly black community members and parents. Contreras was very blunt when linking race as a strong predictor of a student’s academic success. She presented research that showed the importance of using classroom materials that reflects students’ culture. She was very adamant that there are ways to close the achievement gap and strategies for turning schools around; these changes are possible with enough political will and changes in funding on a state and district level.
Superintendent Contreras has stated before that Guilford County Schools is the only large district in the state that does reductions based on teacher’s seniority, which needs to change. It is the quality of the teacher that counts, not how long they have worked there.
To understand the problem and issue more, Superintendent Contreras has called upon the school board to hold more work sessions in order for members to have a better understanding of the achievement gap and the evidence-based constituents.