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Why Disadvantaged Latino 3rd Graders?

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The Report Card analysis is based on the performance of economically disadvantaged Latino (Hispanic and Latino) 3rd graders.  There are obviously other groups that are also interesting and important - achievement for all students is important!  So why the focus on this particular group?

Why disadvantaged Latinos?

  • First, to compare districts, we must focus on student sub-group results - we need to compare "apples to apples."  If we compare overall student results, the different mix of students between districts will skew the results.  A district with few disadvantaged students will likely have higher achievement than one with many, not because they do a better job teaching reading, but because their students tend to have advantages that result in higher scores.  

  • We could compare student achievement by ethnic group (Asian, Latino, etc.).  Many make and interpret these comparisons.  But this also creates "mix" issues.  The mix of disadvantage and non-disadvantaged families within each group can vary substantially by community, and economic status is highly correlated with student achievement. That's why the California Department of Education reports student achievement by ethnic group broken down by economic status.

  • When looking at sub-groups broken down by economic and ethnic group status, the largest group in California is economically disadvantaged Latino students, who make up 43% of all California students.  As a result of being so populous, they represent a meaningful number of students in almost all California school districts; there are 285 districts with 100 or more disadvantaged Latino 3rd graders, and those districts represent 72% of all California students.  Another group of interest is disadvantaged African American students.  By contrast, there are only 37 districts with 100+ students in this group.  To ensure that we are comparing "apples to apples," the rankings are based on disadvantaged Latino students only.

While we have ranked districts based on disadvantaged Latino students, we feel this actually tells us a lot about how districts teach all their students.  First, most districts standardize curriculum and instruction methods across the district - they do not have different approaches by schools or category of student.  So schools in disadvantaged Latino neighborhoods will likely use the same curriculum and instruction as in other neighborhoods. 

Second, disadvantaged Latino students are less likely to receive outside academic supports (e.g., from a family member or an paid tutor) than non-disadvantaged families - this means that their results reflect the school's efforts, not the school's plus outside resources.  Efforts to improve instruction of disadvantaged Latino students will also certainly improve outcomes for all students.

Why 3rd Grade?

Third grade reading achievement is widely recognized as a critical milestone for future student success, both in school and in life.  See for example the Annie E. Casey Foundation's, "Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters" (2010) for a thorough discussion of the impact of reading skills on school and life prospects with accompanying references.

In addition, while some districts see meaningful changes in ELA student achievement after 3rd grade, most do not.  Third grade is the earliest grade where we have statewide student achievement indicators (driven by federal ESSA requirements).  This most likely masks significant issues that are arising before 3rd grade, in the core years where children are developing the neurological pathways for decoding and comprehending text.  If we miss this developmental window for learning basic reading skills, it requires significant additional effort (by both school and the student) to acquire them later.

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