After 30 years of academic gains for Latino students, the pandemic has threatened to upend that progress, a report by nonprofit UnidosUS has found.

On-time graduation rates for Latino students saw an uptick from 71% in the 2010-11 school year to nearly 82% in the 2018-19 school year, according to UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights and advocacy group. At the same time, the gap in graduation rates between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students shrank, the report said.

Then, during the onset of the pandemic from 2020 to 2021, high school graduation rates for Latino students fell by 0.7%, UnidosUS found. In addition, Latino freshman college enrollment declined by 4% from 2020 to 2022.

Similarly, Latino 4th and 8th grade students earned higher scores in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2019 compared to 1992. But from 2019 to 2021, after the pandemic had begun, 3rd-8th grade Latino students showed stronger declines on test scores than their non-Latino White peers on NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress.

Latino students increasingly make up a larger proportion of public school students, growing from 22% to 28% between 2009 and 2020, according to the report.  That percentage is expected to grow to 30% by 2030.

The number of both Latino and non-Latino English learners, or ELs, has jumped by over a million students, the report added. Some 5.1 million students, or nearly three quarters of the EL population, are Latino, UnidosUS reported. 

A June U.S. Government Accountability Office report found EL students were more likely to have trouble finding an appropriate workspace during the pandemic. They also were more likely to face difficulties understanding lessons and completing assignments.

“The course of the next two decades will be determined by the decisions we make today. As the number of Latino students grows, will we create schools that nurture their strengths and meet their needs?” the UnidosUS report asks. “Do we double down on what works — like equitable funding, targeted support for English learners, and inclusive schools — or do we accept the status quo and setbacks caused by the pandemic as irreversible?”

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The pandemic put years of Latino students’ academic progress at risk

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