First Report on Latinx Student Experience in New Jersey Finds Post-Pandemic Learning Loss Reversing Educational Gains

A Rutgers-Newark report on New Jersey’s Latinx  students — the state’s fastest growing demographic — found that after years of progress, educational gains were reversed during the pandemic.

Since 2019,  the number of Latinx students meeting or exceeding expectations in English and math dropped by 10 percentage points among fourth graders and 11 percentage points among eighth graders. In 2022, 47 percent of  Latinx eighth-grade students scored “Below Basic” on the NAEP math tests, with 35 percent scoring “Below Basic” in reading.

“They started off behind other groups in terms of achievement, even though they were improving. But the impact of the pandemic was more devastating than for others,’’ said Charles Payne, director of the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies, which published the report in conjunction with the Latino Action Network Foundation.

The report, titled “The Latinx Experience in NJ Schools,’’ spans the pre-k through post secondary years. It reveals deep disparities in the ratio of Latinx students to school guidance counselors — on average more than 500 to 1 compared to the statewide average of 350 to 1 — and a dearth of Latinx teachers and administrators, who total only 8 percent. Latinx students also have less access to advanced classes and dual enrollment college programs, the center found. Find the report here.

Along with more troubling statistics, the report cited some promising trends. Latinx public preschool enrollment has grown to 44 percent post-pandemic and there continues to be robust enrollment in Career and Technical Education programs, in which Latinx students tend to concentrate. These can create strong professional pathways, the report noted. 

The report found that Latinx students in 36 districts closely met or outperformed the state average in ELA proficiency at 49 percent. Twenty-three districts had Latinx students performing better than the state average of 36 percent  in math, statistics that suggest these could be used as statewide models, according to the report.

“One thing we can take from the presentation of positive outliers is that there’s something those schools are prioritizing, and possibly their organization is allowing them to get better outcomes for Latinx students,’’ said Vandeen Campbell, associate director of the Cornwall Center. “Importantly, some of those are schools that have a concentration of Latinx students. Not all of them, but some.’’

The report recommends building on positive trends. But its top recommendation is to disrupt demographic patterns that increasingly segregate Latinx students. 

“Stakeholders should target drivers of socioeconomic disparities,’’ stated the report.

In many ways, the center’s latest study mirrored and supported findings of a Cornwall Center report released last year that provided an overview of how school segregation in New Jersey affects students, particularly Black and Latinx students, who, unlike their Asian and white peers, struggle disproportionately. 

New Jersey ranks as having the sixth most segregated schools in America for Black students and seventh for Hispanic students, according to previous nationwide research. 

“Latinx students are attending increasingly hypersegregated schools and those schools are more likely to experience high levels of poverty,’’ according to the report.

The percentage of schools enrolling more than 75 percent Latinx students has gone up from 5 percent in the 2013-2014 school year to 8 percent in 2022-2023. Of those schools, on average, 77 percent of students enrolled received Free and Reduced Priced Lunch.

According to the center,  segregation in New Jersey clusters large numbers of underserved students together, resulting in schools where resources are stretched thin and there are fewer opportunities for students to prepare for college or careers, particularly in STEM fields. And the number of these schools is increasing. 

In contrast, schools that are nearly all white—in addition to racially diverse schools, and those that don’t concentrate low-income students—have much stronger environments and outcomes than schools where racial segregation and poverty are concentrated, the center  found in a previous report.

Public officials described the report–the first in the state to comprehensively examine Latinx student outcomes–as a call to action.

“The growing presence of Latinx students in New Jersey requires further analysis and insights experienced by Latinx students and should challenge us all to give deep thought to additional programs and services needed,’’  said Arcelio Aponte, a member of the New Jersey Board of Education and  “The success of our Latinx students, the largest non-White segment of the learning population, affects us all.’’

“New Jersey is at a moral crossroad to decide whether we will continue to organize schools, whether public or charter, that operate on the premise that separate is equal,’’ according to a statement from the Latino Action Network. “This report tells the story of how Latinx students in particular are dually harmed by the impact of residential segregation and school funding policies, despite the historical rulings of Brown vs. Board and Abbott vs. Burke in New Jersey.’’

Peter Rosario, director of La Casa de Don Pedro, the largest Latinx-led organization in the state of New Jersey, saw signs of hope in the report. 

“ My first takeaway is how invested the Latinx community is in the future of public education in our state. For generations, immigrants of all backgrounds have seen public education as the pathway to the American Dream. Today’s Latinx population fully embraces that pathway as previous generations have before them,’’ said Rosario.

But he urged New Jerseyans to push for change.  “Our state’s economic future rests heavily on how successfully we respond to the findings of this report,’’ he said. 

On May 11, the center will present the report at at an on-campus event.