Fragile Futures: Risk and Vulnerability Among Latino High Achievers

Patricia Gándara
Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service
December 2005
The achievement gap usually refers to the chasm between low- and higher-performing students. But, as this study makes clear, disparities are just as pronounced among separate groups of high-achieving students. For example, in 2002 the top fifth of Latino test-takers scored means of 598 and 646 on the SAT verbal and math sections, respectively. Their white peers’ mean scores were 65 points higher on the verbal section and 74 points higher in math. Yet of the hundreds of studies reviewed for this report, hardly any “acknowledge… that high-achieving students might need support and that this support might differ from what is needed by their lower-achieving peers.” It’s tempting to think that smart youngsters, regardless of socio-economic situations or ethnic backgrounds, will turn out just fine. But as these data show, that’s not always true. Bright Latino students, who often come from low-income families and have parents with little education, are particularly susceptible to becoming frustrated or discouraged with schoolwork and the school environment. These kids require just as much encouragement, support, and instruction as their lower-performing peers, albeit in different ways. They, too, need goals, and information on where academic achievement can lead (college). But too often, they don’t receive it. Even when Latino students earn good grades in high school, register for the SAT (not an insignificant step), and do well on the exam, many still make poor college decisions. We cannot address achievement gaps by continuing to ignore these bright youngsters.