Student suspensions in Jefferson County Public Schools are down compared to this point last year, district officials told the school board Tuesday. However, there is still a large discrepancy between African-American and white students.

In a quarterly report on JCPS’ Vision 2020 plan, district officials said suspensions and referrals are both down during the first quarter of this school year. Elementary suspensions, which have been criticized after a Courier Journal investigation earlier this month, have dropped 41 percent.

Suspensions at the middle and high school levels dropped by 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

“We have good news,” Dena Dossett, the district’s chief of data management, said as she presented suspension data.

Suspensions in JCPS are down in the 2018-19 school year compared to the same period of time in 2017-18.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio credited the district’s efforts to improve school culture and climate for the drops, saying the figures were finally “trending in the right direction.”

Referrals are also down, but by smaller percentages, ranging from 2 percent at the high school level and 14 percent at the middle school level.

Pollio said JCPS is intentionally building “systems of support” in schools to reduce behavior issues. Supports differ by school but include social-emotional counselors and positive behavior intervention systems.

“It’s been a start, and we’re seeing positive results from it,” Pollio said.

While the number of disciplinary actions dropped, racial gaps remain. Around two-thirds of the 4,425 suspensions so far this year were given to African-American students, while 24 percent went to white students. 

African-American students are still more than twice as likely to receive a referral, according to presentation data.

While suspension rates are dropping, “there is no doubt we want the gap to also close,” Pollio said, adding that he thinks it will as the district’s racial equity policy, passed in May, takes hold and school cultures shift.

Additionally, every suspension is reviewed by the district’s climate and culture team, according to the presentation. Board member Linda Duncan said the review “encouraged” her.

Marty Pollio

The percentage of chronically absent students is also down slightly thus far, which Pollio called “real positive” but still a “real issue.” The number of high schoolers who are chronically absent – students who miss more than 10 percent of the school year – dropped 2 percent.

Still, 10 percent to over 20 percent students at each grade level are considered chronically absent. Pollio said it will continue to be a focus in the district.

Academically, JCPS appears to be on track with meeting past transition readiness rates but still struggles with achievement gaps between its African-American and white students.

Almost a third of JCPS seniors are already considered transition ready, mostly from hitting ACT benchmarks, Dossett told the board. She said she believes it is “completely attainable” to meet or beat last year’s transition readiness level, which was right under 48 percent, before graduation.

MAP scores, which came from tests given to students within the first three weeks of school, showed 45 percent to 51 percent of students are reading at grade level. Fewer students, ranging from 30 percent to 34 percent, are at the grade level for math.

Those test scores showed achievement gaps continue to be a problem, with white students anywhere from 27 percentage points to 43 percentage points more likely to hit grade level than their African-American peers.

The performance growth of African-American and white students is relatively similar, according to presentation data. Though if students start the year with a gap, it won’t close with the current growth rates, Pollio said.

To help, students performing under grade level will receive an acceleration plan to act as a catalyst and get them to grade level, officials said.

JCPS officials will present the next Vision 2020 quarterly update in January.