During the 2019-20 school year, Latino students at Half Moon Bay High School were more than four times as likely to receive grades of D and F as their white counterparts. By the 2020-21 school year, it was 4.5 times as likely.
The disparities are even larger at Cunha Intermediate School, where Latino students were nearly six times as likely to receive a failing grade in 2019-20. The likelihood of Cunha students receiving failing grades dropped slightly during the pandemic.
It’s a trend not unique to Cabrillo, or even to California. And it’s nothing new, either. A National Center for Education Statistics report from 1995 identifies socioeconomic disadvantages, parental education and language barriers that contribute to lower success rates for Latino students nationwide.
At Cabrillo, where more than half of students are Latino, the district is working to close its achievement gaps with a renewed commitment to equity and to using data to inform future education strategies. At next month’s board meeting, the district will consider adopting a new equity statement that acknowledges the disadvantages faced by Latino students and others, including students with disabilities and those who are English language learners, and take responsibility for closing achievement gaps.
It’s not just Latino students who are underperforming, according to the district data. In language arts and math testing, English learners, students with disabilities and those who are homeless or otherwise socioeconomically disadvantaged are scoring lower than their white counterparts, on average.
“There can be no mistaking the data,” Cabrillo Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said. “It is racially predictable, socioeconomically predicable and linguistically predictable.”
Beyond the equity statement, McPhetridge said he is committed to spending more money and resources to help lift students who aren’t meeting state standards or passing their classes. That includes programs like full-day kindergarten, which gives students who are learning English more classroom time early on in their school careers, and inclusive classrooms that favor pushing extra staffing and resources into classrooms instead of pulling students who need more support out.
“We believe our job is to get everyone ready, so we need to spend more dollars and time on kids that are at-promise,” McPhetridge said.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Leticia Bhatia said this year’s professional development sessions with district teachers, in the form of half-day training sessions, will center on data-informed decision-making to start changing practices in the classroom now to support students who aren’t succeeding. Grading policies in the district are at the purview of each teacher, and while the district encouraged teachers to revise their grading strategies during remote learning, almost twice as many intermediate and high school students of all races got F grades during remote learning than in the previous year.
Bhatia said that the dramatic increase in failing grades during remote learning has to do with low participation in online classes, lower rates of assignment completion and the difficulty of performing accurate assessments remotely. Bhatia said that, on average, online assessments are around 65 percent accurate, as compared to in-person, which are typically closer to 95 percent. Bhatia said at-home support may also have had a big impact on student success.
That prompted the CUSD board to pass a policy that gave students who got D’s or F’s a window this fall to request a grade change to Pass or No Pass, so their GPA would be less affected by their grades from when school was all online.
To Bhatia, targeting Latino achievement gaps needs to start early on at the elementary levels, when tackling language and other learning barriers can have the biggest effect later on.