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Low achievement imperils black students in L.A., report says

February 25, 2013 |  6:00 am

African American students in Los Angeles County demonstrate significant learning gaps by second grade, which widen with age and lead to the highest school dropout rate among all races, according to a new report released Monday.

Black students are far less likely to take the rigorous college preparatory classes required for admission to California universities and miss more school days because of suspensions than their white counterparts, according to the study by the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group.

Only one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university if current trends continue, according to the report, which compiled data on academic achievement, suspensions and the emotional conditions of African Americans in 82 school districts in L.A. County. 

But the report also found that African American students are doing well in some school districts, particularly those with higher concentrations of other races. In the diverse Culver City Unified School District, more than two-thirds of African Americans are at grade level in reading and math, and 88%
graduate. Officials there credited more counseling support, a culture of high expectations and targeted actions to support African American students, such as focus groups and teacher training on
diversity.

The best performance is in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, where African Americans make up 3% of the 11,840 students. There, 100% graduate, 60% complete the college-prep coursework and three-fourths are proficient in reading and math.

Those bright spots, however, are exceptions in an overall troubling picture of African American achievement. The problems begin at home, where black toddlers are less likely to have books, be read to every day or attend preschool, the report said.

“What we have in this state for African American students is a school-to-prison pipeline, where they are more likely to go to prison than college,” said Arun Ramanathan, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We need to forcibly intervene as a California community to prevent this from continuing.”

In Los Angeles Unified, about four in 10 African American students perform at grade level in reading and math, two-thirds graduate and one-third complete college prep courses.

The report will be presented Monday at a community meeting at the California Community Foundation, which funded the report. It is the latest initiative to focus attention on the perilous condition of many African American males. Last year, a state Assembly committee held a yearlong series of hearings on minority males and the academic, economic and health challenges they face and issued a 66-page report laying out a plan of action.

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-- Teresa Watanabe

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