Nova Scotia

N.S. schools need to track students' race: report

School boards in Nova Scotia should keep records identifying the race of their students for an accurate representation of how black students are doing in the education system, says the lead author of a government report.

School boards in Nova Scotia should keep records identifying the race of their students for an accurate representation of how black students are doing in the education system, says the lead author of a government report.

Enid Lee, a consultant in anti-racism education, was tasked with recommending ways to improve the school system for the province's 4,000 black students.

In one of 30 key recommendations in her 110-page report, released Thursday, Lee said school boards and principals should be made to collect data that measures the academic performance of African-Nova Scotian students.

Without that information, Lee said it is impossible to gauge how well or poorly Nova Scotia's education system is serving black learners.

"We need concrete numbers in terms of where African-Nova Scotian students are. We need to name race in our categorization of what's happening and we are asking you to look at how students are doing on all measures, she said.

"We're not asking documentation just of bad news — when students are doing well, when students are 'student of the week' — give us the whole picture. But let's have something to work with so we can move forward."

Consent not always forthcoming

School officials said tracking academic achievement among a specific racial group requires consent from parents, which is not always forthcoming.

Irving Carvery, the chairman of the Halifax Regional School Board, said his board has attempted to track students based on race but found that people often didn't fill out the forms that asked for that information.

"There are a number of reasons why they don't," Carvery said. "It's historical. It's complex."

Lee admitted it could be a sensitive issue, but said there are staff members in the school boards who are qualified to help.

"Student support workers can prepare families to help with this categorization, race relations cross-cultural understanding co-ordinators can help with this," she said.

Individual Program Plans

Lee's report, called Reality Check, also said there was evidence of an "alarming number" of black students being placed in special programs for students with academic difficulties, known was Individual Program Plans.

While it's difficult to know exactly how many high school students are being incorrectly placed in the programs, she said parents from focus groups across the province were wondering how to get their teenagers out of them.

"Every focus group we met with … there were groups of people in them where parents said, 'I have a kid in the Individual Program Plan, and I'm not sure if you can get off of it,"' Lee said during a news conference Thursday.

She recommended the province identify the number of black students in the special programs and then look at ways to help them get back into the regular stream.

Her report also found a rise in the number of black students obtaining post-secondary scholarships — from 246 in 2004 to 378 students in 2008.

Review spans 15 years

Lee's review comes 15 years after the provincial government acknowledged the school system needed to combat racial inequality and released a document known as the BLAC Report, written by the Black Learners Advisory Committee.

Lee examined 12 programs that were created after the release of that report in 1994.

She found that in the early 1990s, few black students were obtaining a university education, citing census data showing 50 per cent of black high school students were dropping out.

Lee said there's been progress since then, such as a dedicated division of the Education Department that has developed black literature and history courses.

But she also concluded that some black students are still finding programs designed to assist them are "out of reach."

The report said the program created to provide support workers to black students has been effective, but added that the workers are responsible for too many students.

The provincial government is looking for public input on the report and its recommendations before it provides a formal response in the spring.

With files from The Canadian Press

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