DATE: Thursday, September 7, 2023

CONTACT: Sadé Cooper


As Colorado Kids Head Back to School, Deep Racial Disparities Persist in our Education System 

2023 CMAS Scores Show Wide Disparities between White Students and Students of Color


Denver, CO  As kids head back to school this month, Justice for Black Coloradans is reminding Coloradans that deep racial disparities continue to exist in our education systems particularly for students who are Black, Latino, and English language learners.

“Right now, public education is the worst I have seen,” says Terri House, who has worked in public education and community development for 20 years. “The reality is that our kids are not able to read. They are behind. The reality is that teachers are frustrated, under-paid, under-staffed, overworked. The reality is that parents are just doing what they can.”

Denver Public Schools parent and alumnus Dontoure Smith agrees, “There’s more not working than working.”

Recently-released 2023 CMAS data support these observations. A first glance would suggest that students are improving, and inching closer to pre-pandemic levels of achievement. For example, 39.9% of Colorado 3rd graders were proficient in English this year (40.4% in Math) compared to 41.3% of 3rd graders who were proficient in 2019 (41% in Math). However, a closer look shows that this improvement is floated by White student scores, and conceals wide disparities for other groups.

Just 22.9% of Black 3rd graders and 23.4% of Latino 3rd graders are proficient in English, compared to 50% of White students. In Math, 21.2% and 22.3% of Black and Latino students are proficient, respectively, compared to 52.1% of White students. This amounts to gaps of almost 30% between students.

Ms. House emphasizes that we should not place blame for these gaps on students and families and not even wholly on schools, but rather on systemic racism and disparities that have existed for over a century. “The school system has done us a disservice by pushing academics and standards but not looking at social emotional well-being, trauma, or basic needs,” she said. “The school system puts us in a box and expects everyone to learn the same way. They expect students of color to conform, and when they don’t they are disciplined for behavior. From what I can see, the school to prison pipeline now starts in preschool.”

Mr. Smith and Ms. House both say that beneath the story these data tell us lies another. A story about how Colorado is, or is not, willing to acknowledge race and racism in our efforts to make public education equitable. Mr. Smith says, “There is an attempt underway to change the curriculum of Black history, wanting to pretend that if we just don’t speak about it then it didn’t happen. The truth is not pretty. Even in Colorado, we have our own checkered past. The first step to ending racism is to take accountability and say this was a terrible thing, so where do we go from here?” Ms. House adds, “We can’t learn from our mistakes if we don’t admit them. We can’t grow if we don’t know. Race and culture should be explored fully, in every sense. We fight what we don’t understand, so let’s talk about it.”