Faculty Grant: Assessing the experiences of Latino high school students in Oregon

Oregon Latina/o High School Students and Equity

by Ellen Hawley McWhirter

Persistent national achievement and attainment gaps between Latina/o and non-Hispanic White students are clearly manifested among Oregon high school students, with continuing disparities in the dropout rate, the proportions who earn their high school diploma in four years, meet 11th grade achievement standards, and take the PSAT, the SAT, and the ACT tests for college entrance, and achievement on these measures.  Educational achievement and attainment have significant, life-long effects on employment, health, social mobility, and civic participation. High school graduates earn 24 percent more money over their lifetimes than those who do not graduate from high school.

Decisions made in high school about coursework, extracurricular activities, risky behavior, and personal capabilities deeply affect postsecondary options, and are often portrayed simply as individual decisions. But high school student lives are shaped by dynamic school, familial, societal, sociocultural, and economic contexts. Research on Oregon Latina/o adolescent experiences, attitudes, and behaviors in high school can illuminate contextual factors that constrain or enhance educational persistence and attainment.

With grant funds from CLLAS, I am preparing a report on Latina/o high school students and equity in the state of Oregon. This report is part of a Research Action Project coordinated by Gerardo Sandoval entitled “Advancing Latino Equity in Oregon.” In an ongoing collaboration with the Cesar E. Chavez Leadership conference, I have nine years of annual data from 800-1500 Latina/o high school student conference participants from 65 to 90 schools in Oregon. The survey instrument varies each year, is  administered in English and Spanish, and includes measures of immediate postsecondary plans, barriers experienced in school, self-efficacy for managing schoolwork and for learning math, science, and language arts, connectedness to school, critical consciousness, their experiences of microaggressions while in school, and their engagement in school, extracurricular activities, helping others, and Spanish language engagement. Two undergraduates and 17 graduate students in counseling psychology and in prevention sciences have collaborated in research projects utilizing these data sets over the past nine years. This data can help illuminate some of the salient factors associated with Oregon Latina/o high school students’ experiences, achievements, and postsecondary plans.

With respect to postsecondary plans, it is encouraging that the majority of conference participants plan to enroll in community college or four-year college programs. However, within group differences include that, in 2014, those completing the survey in Spanish and Latino boys were more likely than those completing the survey in English and Latina girls not to plan on pursuing enrollment in two- or four-year colleges. Those responding in Spanish were more likely to consider dropping out than those responding in English, and girls were much more confident they would continue their education after high school than boys.

In 2011, the barriers to most frequently affect students in school were the same for girls, boys, and those responding in English and Spanish: Not enough money, confidence, or help figuring out steps to take, parents’ lack of access to information, and not smart enough. Latino boys were more often affected in school by lack of support from friends, having a job, and teachers’ low expectations, while Latina girls were more often affected by family responsibilities at home. Those responding in Spanish were more affected than those responding in English by barriers including lack of access to opportunities, having a job, home/school communication, immigration status, and language barriers.

Latina/o students who reported experiencing more microaggressions at school were less connected to school, reported lower grades, were more likely to consider dropping out, and planned for less postsecondary education. While 34 percent of participants reported that other students never make racist comments about Latina/os, 22 percent reported that this occurs weekly or daily. Nearly three-quarters of the students indicated that teachers or staff never make racist comments about Latina/os, but 17 percent of students reported that this happens more often than monthly. We also explored cultural affirmation, or how often students and parents feel welcomed and respected at the school, and how often non-Latino students and staff show interest and respect for Latino culture. Students reporting higher cultural affirmation also reported higher grades, higher connectedness to school, lower consideration of dropout, and lower barriers associated with academic support and self-efficacy.

The final report will summarize these and numerous other findings, along with state-level data reflecting the status of equity efforts for Oregon Latina/o high school students. The report will also describe promising programs across the state that support Latina/o high school students’ educational persistence, achievement, and postsecondary educational attainment.

—Ellen Hawley McWhirter is the Ann Swindells Professor in Counseling Psychology and Program Director of the doctoral program in Counseling Psychology. Her research includes a focus on risk and protective factors in the career development and educational attainment among Latina/o adolescents.