Press Release

WASHINGTON (April 2, 2014) -— Many black and Latino students and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who enter high school as top academic performers lose important ground as they push toward graduation day. When compared to their high-achieving white or more advantaged peers, these students finish high school, on average, with lower grades, lower AP exam pass rates, and lower SAT/ACT scores, according to a report released by The Education Trust.

Click here for an Ed Trust infographic illustrating how black, Latino, and low-socioeconomic status students are falling out of the lead.

“”Falling out of the Lead“” is the latest report in Ed Trust’’s Shattering Expectations series, which focuses on gaps at the high end of achievement. The authors find that, while students of color and students from less advantaged backgrounds are underrepresented among top achievers (i.e., those who score higher than 75 percent of their peers) at entry to high school, there are significant numbers of these students (about 61,250 students of color and 60,300 students from low- socioeconomic backgrounds) who could help diversify the nation’s top colleges and go on to assume leadership roles. However, their performance on college readiness and college attendance measures suggests they are not always privy to the types of instruction, school culture, and support and guidance from their schools that other high achievers get and that would help them to remain at the top.

“”These are the students who arrive at high school most ready to take advantage of rigorous and high-level instruction,” said Marni Bromberg, Ed Trust’’s research associate and co-author of the report. “”But to reach the academic levels that they are capable of, they need exposure to challenging curriculum as well as support and guidance from their schools, including in selecting a college that can really challenge them.””

To examine high-achievers paths through high school and beyond, this report analyzes nationally representative data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, documenting students’’ success on college readiness and enrollment measures:

  • High-achieving white, black, and Latino students take similar course loads in high school. However, high-achieving students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to take advanced math, advanced science, and AP/IB courses than their more advantaged peers.
  • High-achieving black students pass roughly 36 percent of all AP tests they take (with a 3 or better) and high-achieving Latino students pass 51 percent, while high-achieving white students pass 68 percent. High-achieving students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds pass 45 percent of all AP tests taken, compared to their more advantaged peers who pass 73 percent of their exams.
  • High-achieving students of color and high-achieving students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are twice as likely as white and advantaged students not to take college admissions tests.
  • 54 percent of high-achieving black students and 41 percent of high-achieving Latino students go on to enroll in moderately or highly selective colleges, compared to 67 percent of white students. Likewise, less than half (44 percent) of high-performing low-socioeconomic status students enroll in these institutions, compared to 78 percent of their more advantaged peers.

To complement these analyses, the authors interviewed five high-achieving, low-income students to hear about their experiences in different high schools around the country and to get their advice on what schools can do to help high achievers. Their stories bring to life practices that contribute to gaps seen in the quantitative data and just how important schools and mentors are in helping students chart a path past graduation. “”What holds a lot of students back is people tell them ‘’No,'”’” said one student.

Similarly, the authors interviewed the principal of Ohio’’s Columbus Alternative High School -— a diverse school where nearly all students graduate -— to learn how educators there grow the capacities of high-achieving students, without sacrificing the needs of those who come in behind. The principal believes the only way to truly prepare students for college is to offer authentic, college experiences in high school.

These data and stories, coupled with a series of reflection questions, provide a tool for practitioners to examine what is happening in their own high schools and find solutions to what is preventing high achievers from exceling at the levels they are capable of reaching.

“”Serving high-achieving students well is a serious responsibility for our high schools,”” said Christina Theokas, director of research and co-author of the report. ““Our nation can’’t afford this loss of potential. With attention, schools and educators can disrupt the inequitable outcomes experienced by black and Latino students and students from less advantaged backgrounds.””