Graduation rates for Indigenous students are rising in British Columbia, but closing the education outcome gaps that still exist requires more attention, says auditor general Carol Bellringer.
An audit report released Tuesday found the percentage of Indigenous students graduating from B.C. public high schools hit its highest level ever last year at 70 per cent. During the same period, 86 per cent of non-Indigenous students graduated from Grade 12.
Sooke school board chairman Ravi Parmar said he is happy to say that his district’s Indigenous graduation rate is the same as the provincial mark.
“We’ve always had a pretty good graduation rate in terms of Aboriginal students in SD62,” he said. “Certainly our district and our staff and our communities have been working really hard at it.
“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to continue to move together.”
Ministry of Education figures for 2017-2018 put other Island Indigenous graduation rates at 59 per cent in the Greater Victoria School District, 54 per cent in the Saanich district and 62 per cent in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith district.
Bellringer told reporters in a conference call that more needs to be done.
“Overall, while there has been improvement, the system is still not supporting Indigenous students to have the same success that non-Indigenous students enjoy,” she said. “Indigenous students on average are still not doing as well.”
Bellringer said the audit is an update from a 2015 report that called on the Education Ministry to address differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in reading, writing and math assessments, graduation rates and feelings of safety at schools.
The 34-page report says that despite posting the highest graduation rate ever, there is still a 16 percentage point gap between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students.
It also says “Indigenous students are still more likely than non-Indigenous students to report not feeling safe in school, and to report higher rates of feeling bullied, teased and picked on.”
The audit makes 11 recommendations to the Education Ministry, including more collaboration between education officials and Indigenous leaders to develop strategies to close the outcome gap for Indigenous students.
Parmar said that call for people to come together stood out to him in the report. He said the district has a good relationship with Indigenous leaders inside its borders and called them “critical role models.”
“We couldn’t have done what we have as a staff and a board, in terms of having these successful graduations, without them as partners,” he said. “I hope other school districts in the province know how important those relationships are to the success of all students.”
The Education Ministry says in a response to the report that much progress needs to be made, but the results have been compelling since 2013-2014 when the Indigenous graduation rate was 62 per cent.