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Tuesday September 21st

Hispanic disparity in reading levels and graduation rates revealed in community report

Chapel Hill High School is a part of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, one of the top-ranked school districts in the state.
Buy Photos Chapel Hill High School is a part of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, one of the top-ranked school districts in the state.

The Carolina Chamber’s 12th Annual State of the Community Report reveals that Hispanic students in both Chapel Hill and Orange County are outperforming neighboring counties in four-year graduation rates.

But Hispanic students are still underperforming when compared to white students, specifically in third-grade reading level proficiency, according to The Carolina Chamber’s State of the Community 2019 Data Book. 

“We believe reading on grade level by grade three is one of the most important things and focusing our community’s attention on that it is a big indicator of a person’s chance of success,” the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro President and CEO Aaron Nelson said. “The difference of performance between our children of color and our white children is substantial and unacceptable.”

According to the data book, the Hispanic student graduation rates are 85 percent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) and 83 percent for Orange County Schools. 

In comparison, 77 percent of Hispanic students graduate high school in Wake County Schools and 71 percent in Durham Public Schools. The state average is 80 percent.

Since 2008, the four-year graduation rate of Hispanic students in CHCCS has increased by 24 percent and by 84 percent in Orange County Schools. 

Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said the increase in graduation rates is the result of a combination of factors. 

“Of course, we are pleased with our students for the hard work they put in and for their family's support,” Nash said. “Our staff is dedicated to their craft and committed to providing an excellent school experience for every child. It truly is a community effort.”

Though four-year graduation rates among Hispanic students have increased, CHCCS's end-of-grade third-grade reading level proficiency has declined within the last four years.

Hate-Free Schools Coalition founder La Tarndra Strong said the achievement gap between students of color and white students has been normalized in schools nationally. 

“Although I think we see progress from time to time, that progress is not sustained,” Strong said. “When we see that progress, like we might see progress in the graduation rate, it doesn’t follow through with the educational experience holistically, so we don’t see that same success illustrated in the reading scores or college placement scores.”

But when compared to surrounding counties, CHCCS’ overall third-grade reading levels remain substantially higher, Nelson said.

“The bad news is that while higher here, it has not been increasing over time,” Nelson said. “We should be proud of our performance in comparison to our peers, but there remains work to do.”

According to the data book, in 2018, 39 percent of Hispanic students in CHCCS met third-grade reading level proficiency, about a 5 percentage point decrease from 2014. As of 2018, third-grade reading level proficiency among Hispanic students in Orange County Schools has decreased by 14 percentage points since 2014.

Nash said it's difficult to identify all contributing factors of this decrease because they can vary from child to child. 

“As a school district committed to the success of the whole child, we try to address not only the academic needs of our students, but also the social, emotional and physical needs,” Nash said. 

Strong said she believes there are systemic problems within the school system that create these inequities. 

“For the most part, we have this idea about who leads, who achieves, who has access, and when we enter the school system with these biases, we find ourselves catering to those that represent those images,” Strong said. “I think teachers mean well, but they go into classrooms, and you see them maybe teaching to a certain type of student inadvertently.”

When compared to Black students in Orange County Schools, the four-year graduation rate for Hispanic students was 3 percentage points higher in 2018. The four-year graduation rate of Black students in CHCCS is 86 percent. 

Strong said although students of color are graduating, their academic achievement is below the bar, which can create negative impacts beyond high school. 

“On average, Black and Brown students graduate from high school at an eighth-grade reading level,” Strong said. “We see low employment rates, and that’s because they were ill-prepared, and they were not college ready when they left the school district.”

Nash said CHCCS has a strategic plan designed to address achievement gaps among students. 

According to the 2018-2021 CHCCS Strategic Plan, strategies include creating the necessary services for traditionally underserved students and reviewing and redesigning district programs to ensure services meet all learners’ needs. 

Strong said to close the achievement gap, schools need to have parent groups, make schools more inviting, promote a cultural understanding for teachers and students and assess why students are not doing well. 

“In Orange County Schools, we don’t even have real assessments that explain why students aren’t learning,” Strong said. “Therefore, we can’t get to the solution because we are just beginning to understand that there are parts of our school system that create these equities for students.”


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