Taking advanced courses can help students change the trajectories of their academic careers. But a national study — supported by recent state data — shows that Idaho’s Latino students are underrepresented in the advanced courses that prepare students for college.
Across the country, black and Latino students are less likely to be enrolled in advanced coursework compared to their white peers, according to a study by D.C. based nonprofit The Education Trust.
In Idaho, the study found that Latino students have unequal representation in advanced placement classes, advanced math in junior high and especially in elementary school gifted-and-talented programs.
The study called on data from the 2015-2016 school year, collected by the U.S. Department of Education. In the years since, data from the Idaho State Department of Education shows that more Latino students are taking algebra in eighth grade but participation in gifted-and-talented classes remains low.
National data shows black and Latino students are successful in advanced courses when given the opportunity. For example, Latinos made up 27% of U.S. 8th grade students enrolled in algebra and 26% of those who passed the courses.
State data shows Latino enrollment in advanced courses has grown, but not by much
About 18 percent of Idaho students are Latino — the largest minority group in Idaho schools.
To have equal representation in advanced courses, the percentage of Latino students in those classes would also be around 18 percent.
But, the Education Trust survey found that Latino participation in advanced coursework areas fell short of that mark. Compared to other states, Latino student representation in Idaho was low in a number of areas. The state ranked at the bottom of the list for the percentage of Latino elementary school students enrolled in gifted-and-talented programs, for example.
States were excluded from the analysis if less than 3 percent of students in their schools were Latino. A similar analysis for Idaho’s black students wasn’t included in the report because so few Idaho students are black. States where fewer than 10 percent of their elementary schools offered gifted-and-talented programs were also excluded from those rankings.
Here’s how Idaho ranked nationally, according to the Education Trust study:
- Latino students make up 19 percent of Idaho’s elementary students, but only 6 percent of students enrolled in gifted programs.
- Latino students are 18 percent of Idaho’s eighth grade student body are Latino, but Latinos are only 10 percent of students taking Algebra 1 in eighth grade.
- Latino students make up 17 percent of Idaho’s high schoolers, but only 13 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course.
The data suggests part of the problem is Latino students are less likely to attend schools that have these programs or courses in the first place. Latino families have gravitated toward Idaho’s rural areas for decades, filling jobs on Idaho farms and dairies along the Snake River Plain in southern Idaho, in particular.
However, analysts found that wasn’t the only reason for the disparity.
“Even when Latino students attend schools that offer the course, they are not given a fair chance to enroll in the course,” study author Kayla Patrick told the Statesman.
Kris Rodine, the spokeswoman for the Idaho State Department of Education, said the study doesn’t reflect changes made when Idaho implemented a new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
“Our accountability system focuses on the need to continue to improve participation in advanced courses and opportunities for Latino students,” wrote Rodine in an email to the Statesman. “And we have made significant improvements on that front.”
Recent state data for the same categories used in the Education Trust study shows that Idaho has only made limited improvements to unequal representation of Latino students in advanced courses since the 2015-16 school year.
Only 6.6 percent of elementary students enrolled in gifted-and-talented programs this school year are Latino — a very slight uptick from the 6 percent in the Education Trust’s 2015-16 data. Just 12 percent of eighth grade students taking Algebra 1 were Latino — an increase from 10 percent.
The State Department of Education also measures the percent of students participating in “Advanced Opportunities” which includes advanced placement, dual credit courses that count for college credit, and career and technical education.
Latino students make up about 14 percent of all students in that category, compared to 18 percent of students statewide, Rodine said.
According to the state’s Advanced Opportunities data, Latino students took just 11 percent of all A.P. exams during the 2018-19 school year.
In addition, Latino students took 18 percent of all career and technical education exams last year, and were 14 percent of students enrolled in dual credit courses — far more comparable student participation rates.
The state of Idaho also tracks students taking advanced math classes. However, it uses lower parameters to measure advanced math than the Education Trust study. While the study only considers the number of students taking Algebra 1 in eighth grade, the Idaho State Department of Education considers students to be taking advanced math if they’re enrolled in Algebra 1 in ninth grade, too.
Improvement would require targeted solutions for Latino students
To address the particular inequities in Idaho’s gifted-and-talented programs, Patrick said Idaho should also try to make sure those courses are offered at schools with large Latino populations.
School districts should also pursue universal gifted-and-talented screening to ensure that all Latino students have a chance to enroll. Dual-language abilities should also be viewed as an asset and not a “deficit,” Patrick said.
Patrick emphasized the importance of ensuring Latino families — especially those with parents who mostly speak Spanish — know that these opportunities are available for their children. The Idaho State Board of Education’s Next Steps program provides students and families tips, resources and ideas for grades 8-12 in English and Spanish, but outreach for parents at the school level is crucial, too.
Rodine said the Idaho State Department of Education encourages districts to establish and track students’ eighth grade plans as they move toward graduation and all the courses they may need to get to college.
“We are making substantial progress in increasing Hispanic/Latino participation in advanced opportunities,” Rodine wrote in a follow-up email to the Statesman.
But Education Trust analysts said Idaho couldn’t rely on programs targeted at improving student participation across all demographics if they want Latino students to have fair representation in advanced courses.
“Historically-underserved groups in the states don’t face the same barriers,” Patrick told the Statesman. “So there needs to be targeted solutions for those groups.”