In Brief

According to the report, "¡Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can: Latinas in School," released by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, Latinas are faring the worst among girls of other racial and ethnic groups in terms of academic achievement. Among their female peers, Latinas have the lowest high school graduation rate, lowest representation in gifted and talented and Advanced Placement classes, and are least likely to earn a bachelor's degree. Latinas are also less likely to take the SAT than white or Asian peers, while those who do score lower.

Report co-author Angela Ginorio, PhD, of the University of Washington and APA Divs. 35 (Society for the Psychology of Women) and 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), says she designed the study "to talk about interactions with social environment. One's inherent disposition receives external messages from families, culture, peers, teachers and the media. And a vision of what a young person can grow to be emerges." Ginorio believes the outlook for Latinas is more family-centered than for Anglo girls: "The expected involvement and centrality of family to these girls' lives is greater because it is more intensely perceived as central to the continuation of family values."

Economics, social stratification and peer pressure also bar Latinas from pursuing higher education. Ginorio cites systems such as tracking--the hierarchical placement of students into classes based on achievement or aptitude--as detrimental to Latinas' appraisals of their own scholastic ability.

"Such practices impose low expectations that create self-fulfilling prophecies," she says.

To transform cultural differences such as bilingualism into assets, rather than limitations, the report recommends that teachers and advisors encourage Latinas to strive for higher education and professional--not gender- or racially stereotyped--careers.

In particular, says Ginorio, psychologists "need to make sure assessment tests accurately reflect the skills of Latina kids, that they transition into populations to which many have not always belonged and that they understand the whole array of roles available in this society."

--E. O'CONNOR