Robin Zhou's Commentary

Latinos Lag Behind in Academics

by Robin Zhou

It's do or die as our school struggles to meet yearly state-mandated increases in our Academic Performance Index based on student performance on the April-May Standardized Testing Assessment Report tests.

Using past scores as a measure, are Hispanic students not pulling their weight? The answer is clearly no. To deny that the Hispanic student population as a whole lags behind its Asian counterpart would be ignoring the cold statistical truth. Is this suggesting that brown people cannot think on the level of white and yellow people? Absolutely not. But the difference is real, and it needs to be acknowledged and explained before it can be erased.

So why are our Advanced Placement classes 90 percent Asian? Two factors contribute significantly that influence students' academic progress from the first year of school. The first is cultural: many Asian parents, especially recent immigrants, push their children to move toward academic success, while Hispanic parents are well-meaning but less active. Since kids are concerned mainly with the present, little parental involvement often means they fail to realize that school is not an end in itself but a bridge to better things.

Given that Asian students are often pushed harder and more consistently by their parents, it's not surprising that a performance gap already exists by middle school. For example, the Gifted and Talented Education program offers high school math courses to students willing to undetake the effort; it is composed of a mostly Asian group. The second factor maintaining the performance gap appears around then, the deliberate segregation of previously uniform student bodies into white- and blue-collar castes.

With few exceptions, the students in AP classes accompany each other all through high school, excluding the rest of the student body. Here the cultural difference does its sad work: entrance into advanced classes is largely dependent on standardized test scores and grades, personalized evaluations being impossible due to time constraints. Those who miss the first boat rarely get a second chance. The gap is widened as the chosen surge ahead while others languish in classes watered down to yield acceptable pass rates. The stark difference between AP and regular curricula largely accounts for the homogenization of regular students into a more or less uniform level of minimal proficiency by senior year. Students are essentially partitioned into two levels based on middle school performance, so far apart content-wise that lower rarely adds members to upper.

While few Hispanic students enter the honors track, culturally influenced lack of preparation, not prejudice, is to blame. Even so, the school is responsible for ensuring that all students have their abilities challenged, to not mistake lack of preparation for lack of merit. Our current, Dickensian system of the haves and have-nots needs to include a place for those in between the heterogeneous and honors tracks. Bringing back a form of tracking, for instance, would recreate A-level classes that push the capable enough to give them a decent start on life.

I suppose suggesting ways to increase parental awareness is a futile, superfluous exercise. Even with our school's attempts to reduce the language barrier and host parent conferences and workshops, a certain proportion of parents will never be able or willing to devote time to planning and shepherding the growth of their children. Additionally, teenagers tend to shrug off disembodied statistics that come from two boring weeks of testing. Those figures do show a definite racial gap, however, and those who casually dismiss their own inabilities that place them on the bottom end must be forced to understand that those are not empty numbers, but are indicators of the brightness of their futures.