School strives to close Latino achievement gap

March 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Bay Area school is making headway on an issue affecting students all over the state. In general, young people are making progress in reading and math. However, there is still a sizeable achievement gap among Latino and African-American students.

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In California public schools today, K through 12:

  • 48.15 percent of students are Hispanic
  • 29.41 percent white
  • 8.12 percent Asian
  • 7.6 percent African-American

The concern is the achievement gap among some minorities is still widening.

A 2006 achievement report done by Education Trust-West shows by middle school, the achievement gap has grown to four years worth of learning. This means in reading, African-American and Latino 7th graders are performing at the same level as white 3rd graders. And by the 11th grade, the gaps grow even wider.

"Everyone focuses on reducing the achievement gap, we all do... but we all have varying levels of success," says Principal Jacke Zeller.

For the past 17 years, Lincoln High School in San Jose has worked on ways to close that gap. Sixty percent of students there are Hispanic, and 47 percent of them are enrolled in AP (advanced placement) courses. The state average among Latinos is 30 percent.

Anything from government economics to pre-calculus, to advanced art.

"I think with that kind of open environment, it really gives the students a place and willingness to succeed and achieve," says student Max Mendez.

Lincoln also has 120 students acting as teaching assistants.

"I help kids who are usually struggling a little bit and just help to try to show them how to do it," says teaching assistant Ben Reha.

This way no one falls behind.

Twice a week, for 35 minutes at a time, students who miss a class have an advisory period where they are tutored in order to catch up.

"Teachers using engaging instructional strategies, number one, and building relationships with students. So the front line is teachers," says Principal Zellar.

Lincoln is a visual performing arts magnet high school. The courses pull kids in. Most take seven classes instead of the normal six.

There have been only two principals in the past 17 years. Jackie Zeller is the third. This is her first year.

Lincoln High School was recently honored by a national education group because in the last seven years this school has been able to dramatically close the achievement gap between Latino and white students.

A look at the API scores which measure proficiency in English and math, shows Lincoln has closed the achievement gap from 268 points in the year 2000 to 162 points today.

"The acceleration of Hispanic students toward the state goal of 800 has been significant, very significant there and that gap is closing and that trend should continue until it's fully closed," says Linda Murray with The Education Trust.

The number of Latino students who are considered college-ready in Santa Clara County has remained flat in the past seven years, but Lincoln's numbers have been significantly higher at nearly 70 percent in 2005-2006.

The college and career center is instrumental in getting students into universities.

"Unfortunately, schools don't have the funding like they used to to take students on field trips and that type of thing. So we do the best that we can in-house to educate the students about maybe different college fairs that are going on and different campus recruitment events," says counselor Shannon Sakamoto.

Today, Lincoln High is dispelling the myth that Latinos are unable to meet the challenges presented to them.