Original URL: http://www.sltrib.com/2003/oct/10232003/utah/104513.asp

Researchers cite elements to help Latino students
The Salt Lake Tribune
By Ronnie Lynn


High academic standards, strong teachers and extra help for struggling students: Those are key elements of a state proposal to improve public schoolchildren's academic achieve- ment.
    They also are essential to closing the nationwide achievement gap -- also found in Utah -- between Latino and Anglo students, a national advocacy group says.
    Latinos have long been the largest minority group in Utah, and they pass year-end standardized tests at a much lower rate than their Anglo peers.
    Coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month, researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust released a report Tuesday detailing trends in academic performance, high school graduation and college attendance among Latino students as compared to their Anglo peers.
    While economic disadvantage and language barriers are factors in Latino students' academic performance, schools should focus more attention and resources on students who need the most help, said Paul Ruiz, a principal partner at the Education Trust.
    "What matters most is the kind of curriculum, the richness of that curriculum, the quality of the teaching staff, the supports we provide for kids and the [attitude] that we're not going to come up with excuses," he said.In Utah, about 50 percent of Latino students scored proficient on year-end standardized tests in math and language arts in 2002, the most recent available by ethnicity. By contrast, 75 percent of Anglo students passed the math test, and 81 percent passed the language arts test.
    Results from state standardized tests given this spring will be available by ethnicity in coming weeks.
    Many will be watching to see if they mirror improvements shown on the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress test in reading, in which Latino fourth-graders in Utah made significant gains since 1998, jumping from 190 to 201 on a 500-point scale. Their scores are on par with the national average of 199 for Latino students.
    Anglo fourth-graders also improved in the same period, moving from a 220 score in 1998 to 224 in 2002.
    The national average for this group was 227. Anglo eighth-graders in Utah scored 267, about the same as in 1998, but slightly behind the 2002 national average of 271.
    According to the 2000 census, Utah's Latino population grew to 200,000, about 9 percent of the state's population. State demographers and education officials expect the trend to continue.
    The projected growth is one of the reasons the state Board of Education is proposing a $393 million reform plan that bolsters teacher training, tutoring, before- and after-school programs and other services for students who struggle to meet academic standards.
    State Superintendent Steve Laing told lawmakers last week that Utah's changing demographics only heighten the need for extra services.
    Nationwide, Latino 12th-graders score at about the same levels of Anglo eighth-graders in math and reading, according to The Education Trust's analysis of test scores.
    The achievement gap plays out beyond the public school system, as Latinos graduate from high school and attend and complete college at lower rates than Anglos.