Data Reveals Alarming Disparities in Achievement Among Asian American and Pacific Islander Students in California Schools


OAKLAND, CA (August 12, 2010) – In advance of the upcoming California Standards Tests (CST) results, The Education Trust—West is releasing Overlooked and Underserved: Debunking the Asian ‘Model Minority’ Myth in California Schools, a new policy brief detailing alarming disparities in achievement that exist among subgroups of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students.  Issued jointly with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, the brief finds the state is under-serving students by not recognizing the full diversity of its AAPI communities.  Most disturbing, opportunity gaps are being exacerbated by the state’s failure to collect and report comprehensive, critical student achievement data.

“California’s failure to collect and release data revealing the full diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander students is unconscionable,” said Dr. Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color and students in poverty.  “Only by collecting and disaggregating data on subgroups of Asian and Pacific Islanders will we have the information we need to better serve our state’s fastest-growing student populations.  Sadly, the state’s next report on student achievement will likely miss the boat again and not include the range of data required to remedy persistent achievement gaps.”

The policy brief dispels the myth that Asian American and Pacific Islander students are a monolithic group of high academic achievers.  Current available data shows that AAPI students come from at least 14 different subgroups; furthermore, they differ considerably by country of origin, language, and socioeconomic status.  For example, roughly one-third of Asian and Filipino students and more than half of Pacific Islander students come from low-income families.  Disaggregating this data by income revealed large disparities in academic performance between higher-income API students and their lower-income peers.  As a result, educational outcomes and needs among API students vary widely.

“The findings from the brief show that there is a disconnect between what is perceived by the public to be reality versus what is indeed reality for Asian American and Pacific Islander students,” said U.S. Representative Mike Honda (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “When less than 10 percent of Filipinos, Cambodians, Laotians and Samoans are ready for college math, it shows that our education system needs a paradigm shift.  As a former educator and representative of the Silicon Valley, I know the value of STEM education and its relation to our global competitiveness. Data and facts will help us recognize the needs of our high-need students.”

Asian and Pacific Islander students who struggle in school often fail to get the attention and resources they need to be ready for college and career.  The brief finds roughly 7 out of 10 Asian students and 9 out of 10 Pacific Islander students are not prepared for college-level coursework.  In 2008, 37 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander high school graduates enrolled in a UC or CSU as first-time freshmen.  However, UC and CSU systems do not report detailed data on the enrollment of subgroups of these students.  In fact, the University of California aggregates them into a single category.  Without disaggregation, the data masks subgroup disparities that K-12 achievement data suggest are likely to exist in UC and CSU enrollment rates.

“Californians deserve the support systems necessary for our children to succeed in school,” said Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County), Chair of California’s Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.  “The more we know, the more we can provide what AAPI students need – and that’s what the policy brief demonstrates.  This is why API Caucus members have authored legislation requiring the state to collect data that reflects the full spectrum of California’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.”

ETW Policy Brief August 2010–Overlooked and Underserved

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.