By Carolyn Jones from Cal Matters
For most K-12 student groups in California, test scores have been maddeningly flat since the pandemic. But for Black students, stagnant scores have been particularly frustrating: Black students’ math and English language arts scores inched downward for most grade levels last year, notching some of the lowest scores among any student group.
At least one district, however, has reversed that trend. Emery Unified, a small district tucked between Berkeley and Oakland in the east Bay Area, saw its Black students — who make up 45% of the student population, one of the highest rates in the state — show dramatic gains from 2022. Math scores nearly doubled over last year and English language arts scores far surpassed pre-pandemic results. Chronic absenteeism dropped 8.4 percentage points, far more than the state average.
For years, some advocates said California’s method of funding schools left many Black students without the additional resources they need. Through the Local Control Funding Formula, the state gives extra money to districts based on student poverty levels and other criteria, not based specifically on students’ race or ethnicity or the needs at individual schools. To address this, Gov. Gavin Newsom last year added a provision to the formula known as the equity multiplier, which allotts more money to districts based on student turnover and high rates of low-income students at specific school sites. The change doubles the percentage of Black students who will receive extra funding, according to Catalyst California, an education advocacy group.
Black teachers also play a big role in Black students’ success, research has shown. Emery Unified has long prioritized hiring Black teachers, far outpacing the state average. More than 30% of Emery Unified’s teachers are Black, compared to just 3.9% statewide.