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N.H. District Must Increase Access to High-Level Classes, Civil Rights Office Says

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A New Hampshire district will have to make changes to combat discriminatory practices that exclude English Language Learners and minority students from higher-level courses, after a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

The office investigated the Manchester School District in New Hampshire to determine if the 14,700-student district's policies and procedures effectively excluded black, Hispanic, and English Language Learner students from courses and programs that would better prepare them for college and career.

The resolution was reached after the office found that black and Latino students were under-enrolled in the district's AP courses. The district has 381 black students and 596 Latino students enrolled in their high schools. However, of the 434 seats in AP courses, only 17 went to African-American students and nine went to Latino students.

The investigation also uncovered barriers that could be exacerbating these students' inability to reach higher academic levels. Freshman high school students are assigned to "levels" upon entry based on testing performance; changes out of these levels are rare. What's more, should a student elect to take an AP course but need to move to a lower level class during the year, the withdrawal would count as a fail—a zero toward the student's GPA and class rank.

As part of the agreement, the district is required to review and assess access to its AP and other college preparatory classes by the end of June 2014, and to provide equal opportunity and equal access for all students.

Some of the specific steps laid out in the agreement include:

  • Assess the enrollment of students by race, national origin, and ELL status in its higher-level learning opportunities, and identify the root causes of these disparities.
  • Implement strategies to increase participation in higher-level learning opportunities, in particular for black, Latino, and ELL students.
  • Improve communication and outreach about these opportunities to students and parents, in particular, providing this information to non-English speaking parents in a language they can understand.
  • Consider eliminating the GPA and class rank penalties associated with withdrawing from higher-level courses.
  • Assess the impact of assigned academic "levels" to students when they enter high school on their participation in higher-level classes.

Disparities in college and career readiness and participation and access to higher-level classes aren't specific to this one New Hampshire district, though. The office's latest data release revealed disparities in college readiness. Additionally, the ACT released a report earlier this month that found that black students are inadequately prepared for college.

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