Santa Barbara School Board member Kate Parker

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara School Board member Kate Parker

Narrowing the Latino Achievement Gap

Officials Say English Learners Sometimes Wrongly Classified

Santa Barbara School Board members Kate Parker and the newly-elected Monique Limon joined other local school dignitaries on the front steps of Santa Barbara Junior High this week to review action plans stemming from a two-day summit in August that focused on narrowing the Latino achievement gap.

“As a community, we have been able to identify some of the needs in our schools” Limon said. “To have successful students and schools, we have to support all of our students, including Latinos.”

McKinley Elementary School, Santa Barbara Junior High School, and Dos Pueblos High School were the primary focus of the summit dubbed “Re-envisioning Education for All: Summit for the Academic Achievement of Latino/a Youth.”

Santa Barbara School Board member Monique Limon
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara School Board member Monique Limon

During the summit, officials from all three schools focused in on eight factors they believe will help close the Latino achievement gap: college preparedness, parent involvement, cultural proficiency and representation, relevant curriculum, eliminating institutional racism, parent and early childhood education, school reform, and student motivation.

Parker said that the summit unveiled the tensions surrounding English learners who aren’t able to reach their full academic potential because of classification restrictions. She said she didn’t realize that there were perception issues surrounding students who are classified as English learners but should be re-classified into higher English courses.

Each student, before enrolling into high school, must submit a Home Language Survey—a four-question form filled out by the student’s parents that determines what the student’s primary language is. But, Parker explained, a student is never re-assessed to see if they should be placed in higher level courses.

“We had not heard that it was a barrier and a difficult obstacle for English learners to move around,” Parker said. “We want to make sure students are taking the classes they’re supposed to.”

April Lopez, 18, a recent graduate of Dos Pueblos High School, said that although she was born and raised in the states and English is her primary language, her high school assumed that because of her last name Spanish was her primary language. Lopez, who now attends Santa Barbara City College, said she is committed to stopping the inequalities she witnessed as a high school student.

In the coming weeks, Lopez, alongside UCSB researchers, will be reviewing data from surveys conducted on five English learners from each grade. The survey included questions from “Who motivates you most?” to “Have you ever experienced racism in school?”

“Once the staff notices this is going on, we can stop teachers from playing favorites,” Lopez said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, eight out of every 100 Chicano students will graduate from a college with a Bachelor’s degree, compared to 26 out of every 100 white students. And the almost three million Latino students enrolled in California public schools account for 47 percent of the total.

Santa Barbara Junior High Principal John Becchio has implemented the after school program Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) to get his students thinking about college even before high school. As a result of the summit, Becchio now requires that each teacher conduct an assessment of learning every two weeks to ensure that the students have learned what was taught and don’t get caught too far behind.

“This is opposed to the old system where teachers teach, teach, teach, teach… a student fails, and they’re referred to summer school,” Becchio said. “Summer school’s too late.

Limon and Parker said that they hope to see a full report of how the action plans have been implemented, along with learning results, in their next board meeting in December.

“We want equity to be a part of our excellence and education,” Parker said.

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