Resources for Understanding the Experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islander Students

It does not take much detective work to run into the stereotype that Asian American students are high-achieving. For instance, popular national television shows often reinforce the link between Asian American identity and technically adroit academic excellence: the Indian American engineer, the Korean American doctor or the Chinese American student who belongs to his middle school’s A.V. club. Despite its prevalence in American culture, this “model minority” stereotype does not ring true for all students who identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, commonly known as AANHPI.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in California and across the nation. Asian American communities have been a part of the fabric of California since its entrance into the United States in 1850. According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, California is home to the largest state populations of Samoan, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, Tongan and Palauan Americans. In addition, our state contains the most substantial population of Native Hawaiians outside of Hawaii and notable Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian communities, among others.

When viewed as a single group, Asian students have higher-than-average high school graduation rates and some of the best CAASPP results. Almost half of the California students who took the 2016 AP Computer Science A exam identified as Asian/Pacific Islander. Yet, these statistics need to be disaggregated in order to understand that different groups have different experiences within the California public school system due to factors such as access to higher performing schools, cultural expectations and English learner status.

According to a 2010 report by a group of University of California scholars, certain subsets of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population are facing large educational opportunity and achievement gaps. Forty-five percent of the Hmong community, 40 percent of Cambodians and Laotians and over 20 percent of Fijians have less than a high school diploma. Nearly one-fifth of Pacific Islander students in grades 9-12 will drop out of high school before completing their four-year coursework. In 2009, California Standards Test results showed that while 79 percent of Korean students earned proficient or advanced Algebra I scores, only 35 percent of Cambodian students had obtained the same level of mastery.

“While, on the whole, Asian student achievement is higher than that of all other students, this overall perspective can mask the opportunity and achievement gaps of some Asian groups, in addition to masking the struggles of individual Asian students,” said Julie Maxwell-Jolly, CSBA senior director of policy and programs. “We need to ensure that all students have the resources they need to thrive in school.”

In order to better understand the experiences of and advocate for AANHPI students, CSBA has put together a list of resources for school board members: