Data Collection for Hispanic and Latino Alabamians with HICA

According to the 2020 Census, Alabama’s Hispanic and Latino community represented just 5% of Alabama’s population, but between 2010 and 2020, the growth in that demographic accounted for 32% of the state’s total population growth. That’s according to a new analysis prepared by PARCA for the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA).

With or without immigration, Alabama’s Hispanic population is poised to become an increasingly important part of the state’s tapestry: 10% of students enrolled in Alabama public schools are of Hispanic descent, as is almost 10% of the population under 25. According to the Census Bureau’s 2021 estimates, 65% of Alabama Hispanics were born in the U.S., an increase from the 50% native-born percentage in 2010.

HICA is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1999 to serve Latino immigrant communities across Alabama. HICA works for Hispanic and Latino families in a myriad of ways: family services, legal advice about citizenship and immigration, financial literacy programs, workforce development, small business lending, civic engagement, and more. 

HICA, having long understood the importance of data in advocacy and planning, reached out to PARCA to do a wide-net study on Hispanic and Latino Alabamians. The goal was to generate a collection of data that would inform not just their organization’s strategy but inform policy and encourage further research into ethnicity and outcomes. This data collection includes metrics relating to finances, education, demographics, and more. PARCA used a wide variety of trusted sources with the most relevant authority and recency. 

The data tells many interesting stories, not all of which are extenuated in our presentation of it. With the help of HICA, we have outlined what we think are the most relevant and interesting trends. The data is broken into three major categories: Education, Finance, and Population Characteristics. 

About HICA


It is critical to understand educational outcomes and their correlation to ethnicity. To understand education and how demographic groups experience and succeed differently, we must look at a variety of ages and lenses. Our data includes four focuses: ACT, Education Attainment, Graduation Rate and Career Readiness, and School Enrollment.

Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program

Source: Alabama Department of Education


Source: ACT for years 2015-2022.

Education Attainment

Source: Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Detailed Tables. 

Graduation Rate and Career Readiness

Source: Alabama Department of Education. 

School Enrollment

Source: Alabama Department of Education


The financial situation of Hispanics and Latinos can only be gleaned by combining many metrics. It requires both personal measures like poverty and income, but also instances of interaction with financial institutions.

Sources: Metrics on unemployment, labor force participation rate, poverty, and median household income are from the Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Detailed Tables. Data on business ownership are from the Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey 2020. Data on unbanked is from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Data on home loan denial is from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. 

Population Characteristics

The Census Bureau collects an abundant amount of demographic data through multiple surveys on different geographic levels. This data set uses three of them to maximize recency and locality. Through this data, we can glean much about Hispanic and Latino communities. Where they are, how the group is aging, access to health care, etc. There are three dashboards with different aims to display the data: decennial census by age, decennial census’s change over the years, and a broader dashboard of characteristics.

2020 Census by Age

Source: 2020 Decennial Census

2020 Census by Change

Source: 2020 Decennial Census

Population Characteristics

Sources: Data on broadband access, home ownership, occupation, and health insurance come from 2021 ACS 5 Years Detailed Tables. Data on occupation comes from 2021 ACS 1-Year Detailed Tables.

Changes to the State Standardized Test and its Scoring

The Alabama State Board of Education voted on Thursday to change the test score students must earn to be considered reading on grade level by the end of third grade. The change was recommended by testing experts due to changes made in the content of the 2023 test and shifts in results.

Using the score the state had in place, 24% percent of third graders who took the state standardized test in the spring of 2023 would have scored below the grade level reading mark. Using the target adopted by the board on Thursday, 17% of those students would have scored below grade level.

The grade-level reading target will take on increased importance this spring when the retention provision of the Alabama Literacy Act takes effect. At that point, students testing below grade level by the end of third grade could be held back. (Students will have a chance to get up to grade level during an intensive summer literacy camp. Other exemptions and methods of evaluation are also available).

The second and third-grade reading cut score changes received the most attention because of the implications. However, the changes to the state standardized tests of English Language Arts (ELA) were made across all grades in 2023. Along with changes in test content, the test scale was shifted, and proficiency cut scores adjusted. The changes make performance comparisons and trends across years difficult to interpret.

The Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) is a series of standardized tests specifically built for Alabama, designed to test students at each grade level as they progress through the Alabama’s courses of study in English Language Arts, Math, and Science.

The original ACAP reflected the course of study in place in 2020. However, in 2021, the state adopted a revised ELA course of study. That revised course of study included a heightened focus on reading skills as called for by the Alabama Literacy Act. Changes to the course of study included:

  • phonemic awareness and fluency added in grades 2-3;
  • phonics added in grades 2-5
  • listening skills added in grades 2-8
  • text-dependent writing added to grades 2-3
  • Recognizing and producing writing in different modes: narrative, informational, and opinion writing added in grades 2-8

Thus, with new concepts and points of emphasis added to the test, the test results were re-examined in light of the changes. Cut scores for the four achievement levels were adjusted. As a result, the test score a student needed to be considered proficient, i.e. scoring at either level 3 or level 4, was changed.

Comparing 2023 and 2022 results, average numeric scores in 2023 were lower in every grade but 6th. However, since the tests were changed and the scales were changed, the state department recommends against comparing scores from year to year.

While mean scores were down, proficiency rates were generally up. The percentage of students earning a score in the proficient range increased in all grades except third and eighth, where proficiency declined by 1% and 3%, respectively. The biggest jump in proficiency was in fifth grade, where the percentage of students scoring proficient jumped 9 percentage points. That is despite a large decline in the numeric mean score in 5th grade.

Because the tested material changed and the test scale was shifted, it is difficult to say if the score changes and proficiency changes were due to changes in student performance, changes in the scoring, or a combination of those and other factors.

Three of eight State Board of Education members voted against lowering the cut score that determines which students are reading below grade level. Those members expressed concern that students who weren’t prepared for the next academic level would be promoted and find themselves far behind and without the literacy support available in the early grades.

However, the majority of board members expressed support for following the advice of testing experts, recognizing that students this year were essentially taking a new test that required a new evaluation of results. Even with the lower cut scores, education officials are expecting a sharp increase in the number of students being required to repeat third grade in order to catch up in reading.

About half the states have some sort of retention provision. Alabama’s approach is modeled after Florida and Mississippi efforts. Both those states have seen large gains in reading on national assessment after implementing a systematic approach to literacy instruction.

Like those states, Alabama has dramatically increased funding and professional development for reading instruction and has especially targeted schools and systems with high concentrations of struggling readers.