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School & District Management

Black and Hispanic Students Are Succeeding in Hard Courses. So What’s Keeping Many of Them Out?

By Christina A. Samuels — January 14, 2020 3 min read
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Nationally, black and Hispanic students are not enrolled in gifted and talented courses, Algebra I in 8th grade, or Advanced Placement courses in numbers that match their representation among students nationally.

But a new report from The Education Trust, an advocacy organization for students of color and students from low-income families, says that multiple factors explain those disparities—and thus, different approaches will be needed to fix them.

Those approaches include increasing the number of seats available in advanced courses at schools that serve primarily black and Hispanic students. But policymakers must also eliminate the enrollment barriers facing the black and Hispanic students who attend schools where they are in the minority.

In addition to the report, Ed Trust created a data tool that allow users to see black and Hispanic enrollment in advanced coursework.

Civil Rights Data Collection Reveals Disparities

Ed Trust examined national data on gifted and talented enrollment, enrollment in Algebra I by 8th graders, and enrollment in Advanced Placement courses. That data, part of the federally mandated Civil Rights Data Collection, comes from every school. The most up-to-date collection reflects information from the 2015-16 school year.

The data show that black children make up 16 percent of elementary school students, but 9 percent of those enrolled in gifted and talented programs. Hispanic children make up 28 percent of elementary students, but 18 percent of those enrolled in gifted programs.

For black students, the disparities are just as stark at the other end of the educational spectrum. Black students make up 15 percent of high school students, but 9 percent of those enrolled in AP courses. Latino students make up about 24 percent of high schoolers and 21 percent of those enrolled in an AP course, but Ed Trust suggests that this statistic for Hispanic students is largely driven by those who are enrolled in AP Spanish.

But the record shows that black and Hispanic students can succeed in these classes when given the chance. When looking specificially at the data from schools that released information on their passing rates—a narrower data set than the nationwide data—Ed Trust found that 20 percent of black students are enrolled in Algebra I in 8th grade, and 19 percent are passing. For Hispanic students, 27 percent are enrolled and 26 percent are passing.

Reasons Behind Unequal Enrollment Differ Based on School

The data also demonstrated that different issues are occurring at different types at schools. Schools that serve a predominantly black or Hispanic student body have fewer seats available in advanced courses. “Those schools tend to have fewer resources overall—overall dollars, number of quality teachers, and the number of seats in advanced coursework opportunities,” said Kayla Patrick, the P-12 data and policy analyst for Ed Trust and a co-author of the report.

And then there are the black and Hispanic students who are enrolled in more racially diverse schools. In such schools, the advanced coursework seats are there, but black and Hispanic students are facing within-school barriers, Ed Trust says.

A deeper dive into a large racially and ethnically diverse district, which is unnamed in the report, shows that student performance only accounts for half of the enrollment disparities in Algebra I there. The other half of the gap is driven by the other barriers noted in the report.

Ivy Morgan, Ed Trust’s associate director for analytics, said the report is intended to provide a pathway for change. The report notes some state initiatives underway to address these disparities, such as universal screening for gifted programs, increasing resources to predominantly minority schools so they can offer more advanced courses, and automatic enrollment in advanced coursework at the high school level.

“It’s not enough to just identify the problem,” Morgan said. “Once you understand the specific driver of the inequity you can look at the specific policy solutions that can address that.”

Image Credit: cboana/Getty (stairs) and imaginima/Getty (keys)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.