Report Analyzes Impact of Texas’s Graduation Requirements on Latinos

A policy brief from University of Texas researchers concludes that new legislation cutting back the emphasis on testing in the state’s high school graduation requirements will help Latino and black students.

The reported was released by the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at UT. The new legislation cuts back the number of state tests students must pass in order to graduate from high school.

The brief notes that the legislation came about because during the session “there was a widespread view that students were being over-tested.”

While “end of course” exams were cut that students were required to pass in order to graduate, five still remain. The remaining exams are Algebra I, English I, English II, biology, and U.S. History. The 10 exams cut included Algebra II, geometry, English III, chemistry, physics, world geography and world history.

Even with the change, many students will still struggle with the existing “end of course” exams.

Such tests linked to graduation often disproportionately negatively impact minority students. Several years ago, I wrote a story for The Dallas Morning News pabout a Hispanic girl who learned English as a second language and was struggling to pass the Texas science exit exam, after failing it four times, so she could graduate from high school. I met with her family and followed her as she participated in Teen Court and attended after-school test prep sessions.The scientific words were one of her biggest challenges.

“I haven’t failed any classes in high school,” she told me. “It’s killing me, the stupid test.”

She eventually passed, on her fifth attempt.

If your state requires passing a graduation test to graduate, consider following a student who is retaking the exam and the steps they take to try to pass. This puts a human face on the challenges students face.

Related Links:

“Policy Report: High School Graduation Requirements Show Promise for African American, Latino Students,” Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin.

“Pass TAKS – or Pass on Diploma,” The Dallas Morning News.

Graduation Rates of ELLs Decline in NYC Schools

New York City Department of Education officials say that the graduation rate for English Language Learners fell by almost 5 percent for the Class of 2012, in part because of tougher accountability standards. Latinos make up a large part of the  city’s ELL student population.

The overall graduation rate for June graduates declined slightly to 60.4 percent for the Class of 2012, down from 60.4 percent the previous year. According to WNYC, the ELL graduation rate was about 35.4 percent.

Officials in part said it was due to requiring a higher passing rate of a 65 on the English Regents exam. Previously, a 55 was required to graduate.

According to a press release from the department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, additional funding of more than $4 million will be provided to 25 schools to help provide teachers training on ELLs and also will pair the schools with those who have a track record of strong performance with ELLs. Other efforts could include extended day options, more bilingual programs and new special materials.

New York University education professor Pedro Noguera told NBC Latino that the extra support is encouraging, given the achievement gaps that exist.

“There are still a large number of schools in the city’s poorest neighborhoods where the most disadvantaged ELLs are concentrated,” Noguera said.. “What we know is that when you segregate kids, you deny them access to English language speakers and with that, the resources that they need.”

Related Links:

– “Bloomberg Defends Lower Graduation Rates,” WNYC.

– “NY graduation rates stable,” The Wall Street Journal.

– New Release on Graduation Rates, New York City Department of Education. 

Pew: Latinos Making Dramatic Gains in College Enrollment

Latino high school graduates in the Class of 2012 were more likely to enroll in college than their white counterparts, a new Pew Hispanic Center study has found.

About 69% of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college the following fall, compared with 67% of their white peers. The data used for the study comes from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“This is the maturation of a big second generation among Latinos — native born, and educated in American schools,” Richard Fry, the report’s author, told The New York Times.

The Pew report also suggests that the struggling economy and the availability of fewer jobs could make college seem like a more appealing choice to young Latinos.

The announcement comes after the release of other reports in recent months showing that the educational outcomes for Latinos are looking brighter. More Hispanics are graduating from high school, although there is still plenty of room for growth and an achievement gap with whites persists.

In January, the National Center for Education Statistics released a report finding that the Latino high school graduation rate increased to 71.4% in 2010, up from 61.4% in 2006.

Similarly, an analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center found that the Latino graduation rate for the Class of 2009 was 63%, representing a 5.5% increase from the previous year.

We should not minimize the fact that too many Latinos are still not making it to the high school graduation finish line, and they are not being factored into the Pew Hispanic Center’s percentages. Pew measured the college-going rates of the actual graduates, and does not include the students who started high school the same year but dropped out.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2011 about 14% of Latino 16- to 24-year-olds were high school dropouts, down from 28% in 2000. The white high school dropout rate in 2011 was 5%, in comparison.

Pew has a few other caveats, as well. Just 56% of Hispanic college students are enrolled in four-year colleges and universities, compared with 72% of white students. Hispanic students are therefore more likely to attend community college, less selective schools, and are more likely to be part-time students — all factors that contribute to the fact that they are less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.

But certainly, strides are being made and justifiably, celebrated.

Related Links:

– “Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment,” Pew Hispanic Center.

– “Record rate of Hispanic students heading to college,” USA Today.

– “As Latinos Make Gains in Education, Gaps Remain,” The New York Times.

– “Latino High School Graduation Rate Sees Large Increase,” Latino Ed Beat.

– Diplomas Count, Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

Latino High School Graduation Rate Sees Large Increase

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a new report showing a huge increase in Latino high school graduation rates. The rate increased to 71.4% in 2010, up from 61.4% in 2006.

The report shows more positive outcomes for all students. About 78.2% of students graduated on time within four years in 2010. The report also breaks out data by state.

Jack Buckley, director of the NCES, told The Huffington Post that the last time the country had a similarly high graduation rate was in 1968. The NCES put out its first such report in 2005, but made estimates dating back to the 1970s.

“This is the highest estimated rate of on-time graduation,” Buckley said.

Despite those gains, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said while there has been much progress, still more is needed.

“…Our high school dropout rate is still unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino and Native American communities,” he said in a statement.

Nevada reported the worst rate for Latinos in 2010, at 47.2%. Meanwhile among the states with the nation’s two largest Latino populations, Texas reported a significantly higher graduation rate than California. Texas reported 77.4%, and California, 71.7%.

Some of the 2010 rates for Latinos in other states with large Latino populations included Arizona, 70.6%; Colorado, 65.9%; Florida, 71.1%; Illinois, 76%; New Mexico, 65.3%; and New York, 60.7%.

Related Links:

– “Graduation Rate Hits Record High for High School Students: Government Report,” The Huffington Post. 

– “Public School Graduates and Dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2009-10,” National Center for Education Statistics. 

– “Latino High School Graduation Rates up 10%,” Fox News Latino. 

El Paso Superintendent Pushed Latino Students to Drop Out

During his time  in power, El Paso Public Schools superintendent Lorenzo Garcia sought to identify struggling students who hurt the district’s ratings and then worked to push them out of the system.

At a time when efforts to reverse the dismal high school graduation rates of Latino students is a national education discussion, Garcia was actively pursuing the opposite agenda. In 2011, about 83 percent of El Paso students were Latino. The former Texas superintendent recently pleaded guilty to fraud and now possibly faces several years of jail time, reports The Associated Press.

He resorted to practices including having staff photograph students crossing the border from Mexico to attend the school district, and then seeking to remove those who were not performing well. He used assessments to identify freshmen at risk of failing state exams. He also held back high school freshmen who were limited English proficient, had attendance issues or had bad grades. Students were urged to leave school or transfer to charter schools.

Once the students were gone, test scores rose because the most at-risk students were gone and no longer able to impact the ratings. As a result, the district’s rating improved from “Academically Acceptable” to a “Recognized” rating. The district also became eligible for more federal funding.

Former Texas State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh was the one who finally brought attention to the practices after hearing complaints from parents. The El Paso Times newspaper also played a key role by requesting correspondence between the school district and federal officials, which exposed the scandal.

Former student Roger Avalos, one of the dropouts, is happy to see Garcia facing prison time. He is taking classes to earn his GED while working at a cowboy boot factory.

“Justice would be getting my high school diploma, a picture with the cap and gown,” said the now 21-year-old.

Have you heard of school officials urging students at risk of failing accountability exams to transfer to charter schools? Do school officials find struggling students worth helping, or do they give up on them and instead focus on helping more borderline students?

Related Links:

– “El Paso school district seeks to rebuild after fraudulent testing practices by administrators.” The Associated Press.

– “Eliot Shapleigh: Former EPISD superintendent deserves harsh sentence.” El Paso Times.

California’s Graduation Rate for Latinos Improving, but Still Lagging

California high schools graduate Latino, black and low-income students at “alarmingly low rates,” according to The Education Trust-West researchers who analyzed recently released California schools data. But those rates are improving, according to newly released numbers from the California Department of Education.

Latinos graduating in the class of 2011 made greater gains than the average for students of all backgrounds, despite lagging the overall state average.

The class of 2011 graduation rate for Latinos was 70.4 percent, up 2.2 percentage points from the previous year. That lagged the 76.3 percent average for all California students, which increased by 1.5 percentage points, and the 85.5 percent for white students. The dropout rate for Latinos was 17.7 percent, compared with 14.4 percent for all students and 8.9 percent for white students.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called the results “generally good news,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

“Even though these rates are improving, at the rate California is going, it will take us 13 years to close the graduation gap between Latino and African-American students and their white peers,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Oakland-based Education Trust-West. “It’s time we stopped talking about this problem and invested in the strategies that top districts and schools are using to fix it.”

Ed Trust-West also identified some high schools that are bright spots, including the Castro Valley Unified School District and the West Covina Unified School District.

The group also recently released another study, “Repairing the Pipeline: A look at the gaps  in California’s high school to college transition,”  finding that just 45 percent of Latinos who graduated in the high school class of 2010 enrolled in college. In addition, most Latino students begin their higher education experience in community colleges, where they are less likely to earn a credential or transfer.

That report made several suggestions on how to address the problem:

  • High schools should provide opportunities for credit-recovery to reduce dropout rates;
  • High school graduation requirements must be aligned to college entrance requirements for a four-year university and universities must receive incentives for being successful with students of color;
  • Successful high schools should share best practices with struggling schools;
  • Dual-enrollment course options through community colleges should be expanded.

Related Links:

“Repairing the Pipeline: A look at the gaps in California’s high school to college transition.” The Education Trust-West. 

– “Latest graduation data reveal an ongoing crisis for California’s highest need students.” The Education Trust-West. 

– “Dropouts down, graduates up, state reports.” The Los Angeles Times.

– “For blacks and Latinos, few California high schools offer path to college.” California Watch.

– The Education Trust-West. 

– “State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Reports Climb in Graduation Rates for California Students.” California Department of Education News Release.

College Scholarship Programs Can Make a Difference for Latinos

The end of the school year is my favorite time to write–not because I’m looking forward to a slow summer, but because so many inspirational stories seem to crop up all at once. As high school graduation closes in, stories about young people overcoming adversity to reach their academic potential are in high demand from editors.

I’ve found several inspirational students to write about over the years through a couple of organizations that are making a difference for many young Latinos and financially challenged young people.

First, the QuestBridge program “matches” low-income students with elite universities to provide a fully paid college education. I once wrote an article about a young man from the Dallas suburbs who was matched with Princeton University. His parents, immigrants from Mexico, had not even completed elementary school.

A second option is the Gates Millennium Scholars program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization offers fully paid tuition, in some cases through graduate school, to qualified low-income, minority students. Gates scholar Rodrigo Fernandez, who ranked first in his high school class at Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, explained to The Brownsville Herald how the Gates scholarship lifted pressure off him. “The day I got it I was really happy because I knew that now I could focus on my studies without having to worry about everything else, that I could stop worrying about the money and other financial things,” said Fernandez, who will attend the University of Texas at Austin and whose older sister also won the award.

I’m not suggesting that you simply write a straight news piece about someone winning the award. If you delve deeper into their life story, you may find a strong narrative story to tell.

It’s also important to ask who are the counselors who are identifying and guiding students toward applying for these scholarships? The process of writing essays and requesting recommendations can be time-consuming. The difference between students who win these awards and the talented ones who don’t can be due to the quality of advising, and that’s unfortunate.

A few years ago, I presented on a panel at the Education Writers Association conference about “undermatching.” The term refers to how many young minority and low-income students often set their goals too low and are qualified to enroll in more academically rigorous colleges than they actually apply to.

As reporters, we should keep an eye out for schools that are doing a better job of guiding young people toward these opportunities. We should also ask why so many schools are failing to offer that support.