February 14, 2003

Study Explores Latinas’ Access to UC

A recent report funded in part by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center found that Latina students in California do not have equal access to accelerated programs in K-12, accounting in part for the low percentage of Latina undergraduate students in the University of California system.

The educational system is letting gifted Latina students fall through the cracks, said Chon Noriega, professor and director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. First they are denied access to these programs, and now university outreach efforts are expected to be cut by 50 percent next year. This report is a clarion call to examine the policies and other factors that produce such inequity.

The report finds that, although Latina students comprise a high proportion of total enrollment in California public schools, their numbers are disproportionately small in academic enrichment programs such as GATE (Gifted and Talented Education program) and advanced placement courses. Important questions arise from these findings, said Daniel Solorzano, professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Education. What factors contribute to Latina underrepresentation in GATE? What can we infer from these findings about the educational futures of Latina students in California?

Solorzano and his team found that current procedures used to identify gifted students are at the discretion of school districts, schools and teachers, with little or no state oversight of students eligibility standards or of the reevaluation of students in the program. Considering enrollment disparities in GATE by gender and race, Solorzano states, Perhaps it is time to evaluate the programs identification and assessment methods. Without access to such enrichment programs, Latinas are effectively gated out from later placement in upper-division math, science, and honors and Advanced Placement courses.

Data from the California Department of Education supports the reports findings by demonstrating statistically the underrepresentation of Latinas in math and science courses. Enrollment in intermediate algebra, for instance, is 36 percent for white female students as compared to 24 percent for Latinas. The difference in higher math is more significant, showing 28 percent enrollment for white females versus 15 percent for Latinas. The report contends that Latinas are locked out of the math and science courses that are necessary for college entrance.

With regard to drop-out rates, once again the reports findings are in corroboration with figures from the Department of Education. Latina students dropped out of high school at a rate two to three times higher than their white female peers.

We must dismiss the assumption that educational opportunities and facilities are the same for all students from the elementary through the post-secondary levels,Solorzano said. Among the inequalities Latina students face from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the report, include the lack of an enriched curricula and qualified teachers, school segregation and lower financed schools. All of these factors lead to fewer positive educational outcomes, he said.

To address the connections between the structures of school inequality and disparate educational outcomes in California, the report recommends that further exploration take place with regard to what kinds of academic enrichment programs are available at the schools Latinas attend; what the processes are that grant or deny Latina students access to these programs; how these enrichment programs affect college admissions by race, ethnicity and gender; and what policies could be implemented to ensure increased Latina enrollment in academic enrichment programs.

It is key that we examine how schools can develop a culture that encourages and supports Latina college-going, rather than remedial tracking and low academic expectations, Solorzano said.

In addition to his duties as professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Education, Daniel Solorzano is the associate director of UC Accord a multi-campus research unit of the University of California that conducts research on issues of educational access, equity and diversity.

This brief is part of the Latino Policy and Issues Brief series distributed by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Funding for research for this brief comes from the University of California Committee on Latino Research.

The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center supports interdisciplinary, collaborative and policy-oriented research on issues critical to the Chicano community. The centers publication unit disseminates books, working papers and the peer-reviewed Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies.

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