Bridging the Achievement Gap


I started this morning like any other day. Responded to emails, checked my admissions reports, and did some tweeting. Two hours in, I decided it would be nice to mail my high school alma mater some materials from the University I work at. Searching for the correct contact and address to send the materials, I stumbled upon the HS Profile page. The page that shows college-going rates, SAT averages, Standardized Testing results, and the like.

First thing I read was the API (Annual Performance Index) report which is based on the state’s standardized test scores. Same as when I attended, the API was below average and had not met annual expectations. I decided to read a little more so I printed out the full PDF of its “college-going statistics.” Walking to the printer I thought of the unequal opportunities students from my high school had, in comparison with other students applying to my university.  (I must mention that I now work at a selective university and have grown accustom to working with high achieving students and schools). After reviewing the document, I told my colleague who represents the area, how shocked I was that not much had changed in ten years. We began discussing the educational inequities and struggles I had, just like many before me.

He told me, “You should feel proud”

That hit me hard. What should I feel proud of? How can I celebrate my success and others limited opportunities? I cannot be proud that 84% of my classmates weren’t going to follow me to a four year institution. I wasn’t glad that I “survived” or “made it.” Why should anyone have to go through a gauntlet just to graduate high school? For all we think we are “bridging the achievement gap,” unfortunately we still have much to do!

I attend from 1998 to 2002, I don’t have the statistics for that period, but the following information about the high school was collected in 2010.

Here’s the breakdown…

Campus Demographics:

3400 Total Students

93% Latino     3% White    1% Black       1% Asian      1% Filipino

Only 12.9% completed the A-G requirements, a must for any Cal State or UC. Of those 3400 students, 93% are first generation students (if and when they attend college). 84% of the students receive free or reduced lunch. This hints towards the low socioeconomic area the students and families live in. Side note, thanks to Prop 13, the educational inequalities continue to destroy areas where the median home prices are low.

What is most shocking is the aspiration, or lack thereof. Again, I am privileged, I was able to go to college and attain a graduate degree. I can be seen as an educational elitist, relative to the dreams and goals of my fellow Anaheim Colonists. But below is what the Class of 2010 reported:

12.6% Planned to attend a 4-year institution
47% Planned to attend a community college
2% Wanted to enter the military
1% Trade school
37.4% Were undecided/going to work full-time

This was the aspiration of students! What can we do to increase the college-going culture? In the coming days, I will look at what I can do to help my school and others like it. It’s not as easy as send a University Brochure. I can’t be a hypocrite, saying coming to my school…when the average GPA is 2.7 and SAT score is 909, and the average applicant at my university has a weighted GPA of 4.0 and SAT score of 1260. What’s even more enraging is my school lists that only 1.5% of the students participate in AP courses. Which significantly increases (inflates) a GPA and shows academic rigor. Also, decreasing their opportunity to enroll at a 4-year school is that only 20.5% of the students actually took the SAT. The SAT (for better or worse) in combination with GPA and fulfilling A-G requirements are the most important factors in admissions decisions.

It is no more apparent today then decades ago; we need to increase and dedicate resources to our most impoverished and failing schools, there is no superman that will save public education, but there are hundreds of dedicated and passionate teachers, counselors, and administrators’ unemployed waiting for a chance. We, I, need to figure out ways to help these students…whether it be extra high school visits, summer college counseling sessions, or going to community events.

Today, I remind myself that my work is never done. As a counselor, the conversations, presentations, outreach programs are instrumental in changing and improving the culture of going to college. I am just one person helping our youth achieve their goals. I thank the people in PUENTE, TalentSearch, Upward Bound, AVID, EOP, EAOP, and GEAR UP that gave me an opportunity and continue to provide others as well. I believe higher education can transform society. Now we just need to continue building college-going aspirations, keep students and parents’ informed, provide good counseling, and create supplemental academic enrichment activities.

Check out Arnold Mitchem’s Post, President

Council for Opportunity in Education.
Putting Education on the Chopping Block

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