Study: Black and Latino students lack access to advanced coursework

February 10, 2020
Black and Latino students across the country have unequal access to advanced coursework, which means they often miss out on vital learning opportunities that can set them up for success in college and careers. A new report and state-by-state data tool from The Education Trust examine why these students are shut out, how widespread these practices are, and what policymakers at the state, district, and school level can do to increase students’ access to advanced learning. These missed opportunities happen along the educational spectrum: Elementary school: Black students represent 16 percent of overall enrollment in elementary schools, but only 9 percent of enrollment in gifted and talented programs; Latino students are 28 percent of students enrolled in elementary schools, but only 18 percent of those in gifted and talented programs. Middle school: Black and Latino students are not adequately enrolled in eighth grade algebra. Black students make up 15 percent of eighth graders, but only 10 percent of students enrolled in eighth grade Algebra I. Similarly, Latino students make up 25 percent of eighth graders and just 18 percent of eighth graders in the course. High school: Black and Latino students are locked out of Advanced Placement. Black students make up 15 percent of high schoolers nationwide, but only 9 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course. Nearly a quarter of students are Latino, but only 21 percent of students enrolled in AP courses are Latino. Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection and Common Core of Data,  “Inequities in Advanced Coursework: What’s Driving Them and What Leaders Can Do” shows that nationally, there are two drivers of these inequities: 1) Schools that serve mostly Black and Latino students do not have as many seats in advanced classes as schools that serve fewer Black and Latino students; and  2) Schools — especially racially diverse schools — deny Black and Latino students access to those seats that they do have. Additionally, fair access doesn’t mean sufficient access: Too many students attend schools that do not offer these opportunities at all. “Advanced coursework opportunities can place students on the path toward college and career success. Yet, too many Black and Latino students never receive the opportunity to enroll through no fault of their own. No student should forfeit future success because there were not enough seats in the class or because the seats were not available,” said Kayla Patrick, Ed Trust’s P-12 data and policy analyst and lead author of the report. The report points to systemic obstacles that block Black and Latino students from entering advanced courses, including:
  • Resource inequities caused by funding gaps in school districts that serve large populations of students of color have a profound effect on the educational opportunities districts and schools are able to provide.
  • Educator bias is one of the biggest barriers for Black and Latino students, when school leadership overly rely on the recommendations of teachers and counselors whose judgments may be shaped by implicit or explicit racial bias.
  • Assessment and grading biases are prevalent in testing and grading practices.
  • Lack of access to diverse educators is consequential for all students but particularly for Black students whom Black teachers play a large role in identifying as gifted or not.
  • Inequitable access to quality early childhood opportunities contributes to differences in the quality of children’s early childhood experiences and can affect the way educators identify giftedness in young children.
  • Lack of communication with families — including lack of communication in families’ home languages — about advanced opportunities makes it unnecessarily difficult for families to find information on the enrollment process.
To read the full report, including recommendations for educators, visit bit.ly/3823pq3.
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