Study finds broad disparity in students' reading, math scores
June 07, 2007

 (Austin Texas)

By Huong Le

Texas' fourth and eighth-grade students with limited English-speaking skills are falling behind their English-speaking peers in math and reading, according to a nationwide analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

About 86 percent of white eighth-graders in Texas scored above the basic level in math on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared with 26 percent of English learners. In reading, there is a gap of 61 percentage points among eighth-graders. Nationwide, the report shows, the achievement gap between eighth-grade English learners and white students in reading and math is roughly 50 percentage points.

The analysis, which said that fewer than half of the English learners tested were foreign-born, is based on scores on a test given to a sample of the nation's students.

Richard Fry, author of the study and a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center said this is the first time the center has put out such an analysis. It is alarming that English-learning students are also trailing students of other minority groups, Fry said "They are even trailing significantly in math skills, where language is less important," Fry said.

According to the report, eighth-grade English learners trail black and Hispanic students in math and reading by 12 to 26 percentage points. Fry said, "we knew they were behind white students in most states, but we didn't know until recently that they are also behind African American and Hispanic students."

Debbie Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, said Texas is doing a better job in educating its more than 700,000 English-learning students.

The agency reported last week that students in grades three to 12 with limited English skills made significant progress on the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System. In the spring, about 39 percent of these students scored in the highest level, compared with 32 percent last year.

"It's not surprising that the performance of English-language learners trails that of other student groups, because these students are dealing with double the workload," Ratcliffe said. "They are not only learning to read and do math but are learning these skills in two different languages."

Ratcliffe said that students are typically placed in bilingual programs for three to four years before moving to regular classes.

The Pew report comes almost a year after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit demanding that more resources be allocated to teach students with limited English skills. The case is still moving through the federal courts.

"The study simply puts out the best quality information we got," Fry said. "If we mandate the law, the achievement gap needs to be removed. We need to vote to allocate resources to the student group that is furthest behind."