Latino students still challenged by economics and language

Latino students still challenged by economics and language

(Calif.) The high number of Latino students who also classify as low-income continue to drive  statewide achievement gap between Latino and non-Latino student test scores and graduation rates, a new legislative report found.

Findings from the state Latino Legislative Caucus’ 2017 update released last month demonstrate that lawmakers and school officials may need to direct more resources toward helping children who live in this intersection of ethnic and low-socioeconomic status succeed in the classroom.

More than half of the 6.2 million students enrolled in California’s K–12 public school system in 2015 identified as Latino, according to the Latino Legislative Caucus report. About 20 percent of all students were English learners, with almost 85 percent of those being Spanish speakers.

That same year, nearly 60 percent of students throughout the state qualified for free or reduced price lunch. In at least 11 counties, 70 percent or more of children qualified.

Research has long shown that minority students or those from low-income families are less likely than their middle- or upper-class peers to succeed academically due to a lack of resources; studies have also shown that a lack of English language proficiency can hinder a child’s academic success.

Unsurprisingly, children who fall into more than one of those categories are even more likely to struggle in school.

Much of the achievement gap between Latino and non-Latino students may be explained by economic disadvantages experienced by many Latino children, authors of the Latino Legislative Caucus report concluded. Data from the California Department of Education showed that students who were not economically disadvantaged performed substantially better than those classified as economically disadvantaged on the 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessments in both English-language arts and math.

Throughout the state, low-income children of all races and ethnicities were out-performed by their wealthier peers, but because Latino students attending K-12 schools in California have much higher rates of poverty than the overall student population, which Legislative staffers suggest could explain the persistent achievement gap seen between Latino and non-Latino student subgroups.

Under California’s Local Control Funding Formula adopted in 2012, schools with higher percentages of low-income students and English learners are allocated additional state funds to support disadvantaged subgroups. Each year, local education agencies are required to develop and adopt Local Control Accountability Plans that detail where the additional money was spent in support of the target groups.

Still, the 2014–15 high school graduation rate statewide was 86 percent for non-Latino children and 79 percent for Latino youth, according to the Latino Legislative Caucus report.

A separate report released last year by the California Charter Schools Association shows that some progress has been made in college readiness among Latino students though. Between 2008 and 2013, the gap between Latino students considered college-ready upon graduation and their non-Latino peers decreased by 19 percentage points.

Richard Garcia, director of communications for the California Charter Schools Association, attributes those gains to the flexibility families have in finding programs that tailor instruction to students who face more obstacles in the way of graduation outside the classroom.

“The school choice that charter schools provide families is critical to ensuring the unique needs of all learners is being met,” Garcia said in an interview. “All of our students need learning environments in which they feel comfortable and where they can excel, and once that happens, we have found throughout the state is that the socio-economic factors and language barriers mentioned in the report can more likely be overcome because the environment chosen by the families matches the unique needs of the students being served.”

The Latino Legislative Caucus report also found that the gap between the statewide percentages of Latino students and non-Latino students on the 2016 Smarter Balanced standardized tests with scores meeting or exceeding standards in English-language arts was considerable, though that gap narrowed slightly in higher grade levels.

In grade three, 30 percent of Latino students scored at or above grade-level standards, while 59 percent of non-Latino students met or exceeded standards. That gap shrank 5 percentage points by grade eight, and in grade 11, 50 percent of Latino students met or exceeded standards, compared with 69 percent of non-Latino students.

There was also a gap between the percentages of Latino students and non-Latino students with scores that met or exceeded standards in math. Unlike the English-language arts assessment, however, the gap was smallest in grade three and expanded over time.

According to the report, 80 percent of Latino students who took the Smarter Balanced assessment classified as economically disadvantaged compared to 37 percent of non-Latino test-takers.

Other findings from the report include:

  • The state’s Latino population is younger than the non-Latino population, with 34 percent of Latinos aged 19 or younger, while 21 percent of the non-Latino population is younger than 20;
  • 75 percent of Latinos spoke a language other than English at home, and were more likely to self-identify as speaking English less than “very well” (34 percent compared to 11 percent of the non-Latino population); and
  • From 2010 to 2014, 41 percent of Latinos aged 25 and older in California reported they had less than a high school education–five times that of non-Latinos in that age group who reported that they had not earned a high school diploma.