Spanish-speaking students in Washington state take fewer advanced courses and earn lower grades in those courses than other language minority students and English-only speakers, according to a new study from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. These outcomes occur regardless of whether Spanish speakers—the largest group of language-minority students in Washington—are classified as English learners.
However, differences in advanced course enrollment and performance disappear when students have the same grade point average and test scores in the prior school year. This suggests that gaps in advanced course enrollment and performance could diminish or disappear if schools and districts can successfully improve the content mastery of Spanish-speaking students in earlier grades.
The study examined differences in advanced course enrollment and performance for groups of language minority students and native English speakers in Washington state high schools. With data from more than a million students enrolled in Washington state high schools between 2009/10 and 2012/13, the study used regression analysis and calculations of percentages and averages to highlight outcomes for Spanish-speaking students—the largest group of language minority students in the state—and for students from other language backgrounds, including native English speakers.
The study found that Spanish-speaking students, regardless of their English learner status, take fewer advanced courses than English-only speakers and speakers of other languages. Spanish-speaking students also earn lower grades in advanced courses than non–Spanish-speaking students, but these differences disappear when students have the same grade point average and test scores in the prior year and attend the same school. In addition, schools with the lowest percentage of Spanish-speaking English learner students offer more advanced courses than schools with higher percentages of these students.
The findings suggest that school districts may want to identify gaps and monitor progress toward the goal of equitable advanced course offerings for all students. In doing so, they should take into account the fact that language minority students are a heterogeneous group and that different supports and approaches may be needed for students who speak different languages.