Using graduation rates is a racist lens of success:

School Districts across BC are using graduation rates as a tool of defining success within their districts. I question this and wonder if this tool is actually telling districts what they need to know about success? I believe that if we asked the students what they feel is success, it would be very different than the school districts idea of success. I would also argue that what success looks like through an Indigenous lens would also look different than what the school district defines as success.

Looking at school district web sites across BC, you can see how the districts divide up their students into three categories; the student population, Indigenous student population and the students with exceptionalities population. I am always curious to know why school districts cannot see that this way of dividing up their students is from a racist lens. The defining factor of the students through this lens is if they are Indigenous. Then if this is the case, then why is the main population of students mixed with white and POC (people of colour)? Why doesn’t the school district divide up by all ethnicities then? Why does it only pull-out information on the Indigenous students and students with exceptionalities with this gaze? It shows me that the district has a separate lens in which they look at Indigenous students even before the students walk through their door.

After the districts separate out Indigenous students, they then compare them to the “other” population. They focus on graduation rates as the defining factor of success. Many school districts boast about having higher graduation rates for Indigenous students, saying the school district is doing well at graduating Indigenous students through their colonial system. A system that was built on the premise of erasing Indigenous people. As an Indigenous person myself, I can say that I am surviving the colonial education system and even though I have graduated high school, this would not define success for me. It means that I survived the assimilation tactics in place to erase my culture, my community and my identity of who I am as an Indigenous person and a descendant of the original people of this land.

Since the mid 1990s, the research has shown us that the graduation rates and equity gap mindset is one of the most racist policies in place within our education system. There has been research that has told us the damage this does, yet school districts today continue to use this damage driven data as the source of defining what success is within our education system. The research tells us that this model is designed for failure. The graduation rates do not tell the whole story of the student, they do not define a student, and they do not tell us what is important or what the student wants from the system.

My question has been over the last few years, is why are we labeling and pulling out numbers that only focus on a racist gaze? The defining factors are the majority students, the Indigenous Students and the students with exceptionalities. Why are the defining factors of success divided up racially and able bodied? Do the school districts actually not see the racist gaze of this? This gaze and these numbers are featureless and objective, yet they are being used to define success, the success is graduating.

My question to the school districts is; what is success for BIPOC (black, Indigenous and People of Colour) students, what is success for students with exceptionalities? Has the district taken the time to talk to and find out this information from the students they are labeling?

Sadly, some of the students in the system would say success is making it through a whole day of school without being called a racist slur, some would say it is being able to survive a class with a racist educator that is always talking down to them, some would say it’s having a class with other students that look like them so they have a safe place to sit, some would say it is seeing themselves in the books they read in class. These are just a few examples that the students would say are success to them, if the district had asked them.

The equity gap and graduation rate model is damaged-driven data which allows the continuation for the western colonial system to define success for students who do not fit within the white centered, able bodied, colonial system. Then it continues to perpetuate the racist gaze without onlookers realizing what it is actually doing, which is defining what the colonial system wants, that is the assimilation of students into the western colonial society.

When districts are only looking at the graduation rates, they are speaking to Indigenous inferiority, they are starting negatively and re-enforcing the racist beliefs that Indigenous children are less than the “other” population. Through the lens of this model, it is saying that if Indigenous students are smart enough, they would be graduating like the “other” population. This is not taking into account that Indigenous students are being marginalized within the classroom and society, their cultures, traditions and communities are not reflected in their classrooms, and they do not have opportunities within the colonial education system to select an Indigenous educator for their learning.

The graduation rate model of success is an incomplete story for Indigenous students in school districts in BC. Indigenous students need to be talked about more than just a broken and conquered people, this is an incomplete story, and it is an act of aggression.

Using graduation rates as the only method to measure success perpetuates the racial beliefs that Indigenous students are less than, less than smart, less than brilliant, less than period. Indigenous students deserve better than that. It is time to change how school districts are defining success and to stop using graduation rates to define it.

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