High dropout rates and school disengagement among Montgomery County’s fast-growing Latino population appear to stem from such factors as low expectations from teachers, a lack of parental involvement and not having regular computer access at home, according to a study released Thursday.
The findings, from surveys of 960 young Montgomery County residents, show how disconnected some students are from their public schooling. The report comes as the county’s Latino student population has experienced a significant achievement gap, a topic that has become a central concern for the school district of 151,000 students.
Latinos have the highest drop-out rates among racial and ethnic groups in Montgomery and make up more of the county’s kindergarten and first-grade classes than children from any other group, according to district and state data. Since 2000, Latino enrollment across all grades has jumped from 16 percent to 27 percent, district figures show.
Still, in a county recognized for its affluence and strong schools, “academic success seems out of reach for far too many Latino students,” said the report, which was a collaboration between the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region and Identity Inc., a nonprofit group serving Latino families and youth in Montgomery.
The report identifies factors that might predict disconnection from the school system and the labor market as a starting point for school, county, nonprofit and parent efforts to help Latino students succeed academically and in the workforce.
“The message is that we have got to come together,” said C. Marie Henderson, director of the Montgomery County affiliate of the Community Foundation. “It’s a community issue that we all have to tackle together.”
Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said he appreciated the collaborative spirit of the report and thinks that its findings reinforce the importance of relationships between students and school staff.
“That’s a critical ingredient to success,” he said. Starr said he hopes the report will “ramp up the conversation about how we can make sure our kids have the supports they need.”
Among the findings of the survey, which focused on youths 14 to 24:
■Latino students who said they experienced low expectations from high school teachers or counselors were more than 3.5 times as likely to report being dropouts as those who said they were met with high expectations. Foreign-born students were more affected than their U.S.-born peers.
■Youth lacking regular access to computers during middle or high school were almost twice as likely to report dropping out as those reporting full access, the report said.
■Students who rented a room in someone else’s house or apartment were more likely to report being dropouts, as were those with grade-point averages of 2.5 or lower during their last year in school and those who did not participate in extracurricular activities at school.
■Students who reported parents’ low expectations or lack of presence after school and at dinner during the middle-school years were more likely to say they dropped out, the report said.
■Among those enrolled in school when surveyed last year, nearly a third said their parents did not graduate from high school. About the same share had no regular access to a computer or the Internet, and nearly half said they did not participate in extracurricular activities.
■Fifty percent of those surveyed reported a negative perception of their school environment and 60 percent reported low levels of emotional support from their parents. Almost one-third reported high levels of depression symptoms.
■Nearly 60 percent of dropouts abandoned school at the age of 16 or 17. Montgomery’s four-year dropout rate for the Class of 2013 was 12.2 percent for Latino students, compared with 8.7 percent for black students and 3 percent or less for white and Asian students, according to state data.
The findings reflect the experiences of students who have graduated from high school, dropped out or are currently enrolled.
“We see this report as a call to action,” said Diego Uriburu, Identity’s executive director. Uriburu said school, county and nonprofit leaders should take note of the findings, as should Latino parents and community members, who need to be involved, too.
The report recommends that school leaders work with the community to develop an action plan, emphasizing the need for cultural competency training for staff members, academic intervention for struggling students and increased efforts to improve parental engagement.
The report urged the county to improve workforce development efforts, both for those in school and for those who are out of school but lack needed skills. For nonprofit leaders, its recommendations focused on strengthening civic engagement and school involvement among Latino parents.
Candace Kattar, a program director at Identity, said the findings already have begun to guide the nonprofit group’s work, and she hoped it would have larger effects across Montgomery.
“There’s a lot of voices here,” she said. “Hopefully people will take this information to heart and use it.”