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
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