The Problem: Arizona’s Latino Achievement Gap

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Latinos are becoming the fastest growing population group in Arizona, yet the significant Latino student achievement gap from other students remains.

James Garcia, Director of Communications for Arizona’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said, “Achievement scores are still not at parity with Non-Hispanic Whites.” James Garcia said although the high school graduation rate of Latino students has been increasing and is moving in the right direction, it is just not moving fast enough.

According to the 2016 Arizona Minority Student Progress Report, “There are clear gaps in university eligibility by racial/ethnic groups as White and Asian Pacific American students show much higher eligibility rates than do American Indian, Black and Hispanic students.”


“Everyone in the state should be concerned about that because you can’t possibly have a strong and prosperous economy for everyone in the state, if half of your state is failing in terms of their educational background.” This lingering problem, James Garcia said, will not just affect Hispanic kids and Hispanic neighborhoods but the whole economy. 

Nearly 50% of the K-12 population statewide are Hispanic students and their education is crucial state economic issue, said James Garcia. “These students, 15 years from now will become the main breadwinners in their families and a really substantial portion of the workforce in the state. “

“The reality is that education is perhaps the single most determining factor in terms of any individual’s ability to earn income,” said Michael Garcia, if Latino students are not graduating they are not a part of that economy.

 “Low educational achievement is usually linked to low earning power… One recent study estimates that, if Arizona reduced its number of Latino high school dropouts by half, those additional graduates would earn an additional $31 million a year.” said the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU in their report titled “Dropped? Latino Education and Arizona’s Economic Future.”

Craig Pletenik, Phoenix Union Communications Director said, “We know that two-thirds of the jobs in the next five or ten years are going to require some sort of college or certification.”

Pletenik said that some of their students come from households where the parents or any family member may not have graduated high school. “Our goal here is to really break that cycle,” said Pletenik.

Phoenix Union High School District has 81.7 % Hispanic students and 52.4% of students that speak Spanish as their primary home language.

Pletenik said, “One of the things that we are conscious about is when we hire new teachers is that we want them to be culturally competent… We think it is important that our students have role models and our teachers know where they are coming from.”

Pletenik said that is not an achievement gap but more of an opportunity gap, so they work in Advancement Via Individual Determination, a program that works with students to prepare them for success in high school and how to prepare for college.

Michael Garcia, Mesa Public School District AVID Department Specialist said, “There are plenty of students out there who are motivated and who want to go to college and want to do wonderful things in their lives. However, there are barriers to that in place for many students.”

The source of the Latino achievement gap is a multi-sided issue, said Michael Garcia, one of those barriers that Latino students experience is “simply the lack of knowledge” of the college going process. Michael Garcia said it is more of social- capitol gap, where students will ask, “How do I even go to college?”

Another barrier that AVID and Latino students experience is poverty level, said Michael Garcia. In the Phoenix Union School District, 77.4% of the students are on free or reduced lunch.

In Arizona, Michael Garcia said, we have a lot of students that come from low-income families or are the first to go to college in their family and need that guidance at home to make that happen.

 “One of the most obvious things we don’t teach students, is how to be a student,” Michael Garcia said that AVID works with students to do that.

Often the systems that are set up in our schools for coursework and teacher’s practices are not always aligned with the best practices for college and career readiness, Michael Garcia said. It is important that Latino students are supported in the classroom so they can be prepared.


“In order for the Latino community to remain an important and valued contributor to the state and its economy, we have to be engaged in the value of education,” said James Garcia.

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