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Education Odds don’t favor Latino students

July 29, 2018

Latino students are the fastest-growing student population in the state, but a new report says they are also far less likely to have teachers who look like them, be exposed to Advanced Placement classes or score well on standardized tests.

The just-released Connecticut SAT results are a case in point. Just 36.4 percent of Latino juniors scored in the passing range on the English Language Arts portion of the test and fewer than 16 percent scored at grade level in math. That compares with more than half of white students who scored at grade level.

Compiled by Connecticut Voices for Children, a research-based child advocacy group based in New Haven, the report finds Latino students are also more likely than their white counterparts to miss school, be punished and drop out before graduation.

“Latino students face policies and practices that often are biased and puts them at a disadvantage,” said Camera Stokes-Hudson, a co-author of the report.

Only some of it, she added, can be blamed on the complexities of learning a language or navigating the nation’s increasingly difficult immigration policies.

The data

Voices conducted the research after interviewing racial justice advocates while looking for data that would help them tackle the disparities. The group first wrote a paper comparing black and white students, then went back and focused on Latino students.

There are now just under 133,000 Latino students in Connecticut public schools, the majority of whom are clustered in Connecticut cites. In the last school year, 64 percent of New Britain students, 53 percent of Hartford and Waterbury students, 48 percent of Bridgeport students, 45 percent of New Haven students and 44 percent of Stamford students were identified as Latino.

While one quarter of students are Latino, only 4 percent of teachers are Latino themselves.

The disparities translate into education outcomes that make long-term negative impacts on the students themselves and the state’s economic health, said Stokes-Hudson, an associate policy fellow at Connecticut Voices.

“Breaking down the systemic barriers to opportunity that drive achievement disparities should be one of the state’s priorities,” added Wendy Simmons, director of education and equity at Voices.

According to the report, Latino students are two times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. The share of Latino students missing 10 percent or more days of the school year — which means they are chronically absent — is close to three times the rate of their white peers. And the graduation rate for Latino students is 76 percent, trailing the 93 percent graduation rates for whites.

Stokes-Hudson said since 2010, some indicators have improved, but they have been improving for all groups. Attendance rates, grades and graduation rates are all better now than they were eight years ago.

“The problem we have is the gap hasn’t changed,” she said. “ Latino students are still twice as likely to be suspended. That has to be the focus. Why does there continue to be such a large gap?”

Taking action

To reduce inequity and support student success, Lauren Ruth, the study’s other author, suggests districts do more to conduct anti-bias training and increase the number of Latino teachers.

The report commends a “Grow Your Own” program now offered in Danbury, Hartford and Waterbury to encourage students in the district to become teachers.

While the success of such programs is currently unstudied, research on similar programs in other states suggests that the programs can make a positive impact on high school students’ interest in becoming teachers.

Voices also wants schools to offer more culturally relevant courses.

The study authors applauded new course requirements in Bridgeport public schools that will require high school students to take either a class in African-American, Latino-American or race relations to graduate.

“I think it’s a great thing to prepare students to understand the full history of the U.S., not only a portion of it,” Stokes-Hudson said.

To reduce chronic absenteeism, the report suggests expanding programs that involve Latino parents and community members in interventions. It also wants the state to start releasing detailed suspension and expulsion data separated by race/ethnicity as well as offense.

The group also advocates better funding, calling the loss of such services as kindergarten aides in Bridgeport Public Schools deeply concerning. The lack of funding, she added, is probably why urban districts don’t invest in more Advanced Placement courses.

Robert M. Goodrich, co-founder of Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education, a Waterbury-based grassroots education advocacy organization, said he is always shocked and disgusted when racial equity data audits reveal deep and persistent race-based disparities.

The data tell him Waterbury is not alone in having a growing Hispanic population and a shrinking Hispanic teaching population.

“This is a crisis and our students and families deserve a response that reflects an urgency of a crisis of this magnitude,” Goodrich said.

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