Latino students’ math scores have dramatically improved over the past decade, according to a report released Monday that used data from the Nation’s Report Card tests to compare fourth- and eighth-grade math scores across the nation.
According to the report by Child Trends Hispanic Institute, Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders in large-city school districts made gains in math equivalent to approximately one grade level from 2003-2013.
“Large cities, despite rates of poverty or low-income among Hispanic students ranging from 75 to 100 percent, had greater score increases for many Hispanic subgroups, particularly at grade four, than did the nation as a whole,” the report states.
Two-thirds of states saw two grade levels of improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math scores, with Florida and Indiana at the top in 2013 and California and Connecticut — where Latino students make up more than half of the grade school populations — in the bottom tier. Child Trends specifically recognized Arizona, Hawaii, Indiana, New Jersey, and the Department of Defense Education Activity for their combinations of recent improvement and current math scores among Hispanic students.
Also mentioned in the study was the improvement among subpopulation groups — Mexican or Chicano, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other Hispanics or Latinos. Since 2003, all subgroups have shown statistically significant and substantial increases in math scores at both the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. One thing the report notes is that these designations refer to student-reported “background” and do not necessarily indicate recent immigration. Journalists in areas with a significant subpopulation of Cubans, Puerto Ricans or Mexicans may want to consider these results closely, suggested Natalia Pane, Child Trends’ senior vice president for research and operations who authored the report.
Though the report did not get into why students in certain cities performed better than others, Pane suggested some possibilities. For example, No Child Left Behind came with a push for higher standards and more assessments. Large-city school districts may have used that assessment data to inform practices, she said.
In an article for The Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton interviewed Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, on the subject. He believes major urban districts have gotten better at educating Hispanic students.
“Instead of so readily tracking them into watered-down instruction or keeping them in bilingual programs for so long, our districts are giving Hispanic kids better access to a more rigorous instructional program,” Casserly told Layton. “And they’re just getting better at using their data to figure out why some groups are not doing as well and tailoring their instructional programming around what the data are telling them.”
Pane had two more ideas. “We’re keeping kids in school more. Here I think large cities are stepping up. Reduced suspensions are keeping kids in the classroom more,” she said, adding the whole push for STEM education doesn’t hurt either.
The overall upward trend could be affected by the large percentage of Latino children — 93 percent — born in the United States. “If you look at the trends at that same period that I was looking at, if you look at the number of English language learners, overall it’s up. However, if you break it down by Hispanic origin, it’s actually down,” Pane said. “When we talk about Hispanics now — in California and New Mexico, more than 50 percent of children are Hispanic — Hispanic doesn’t mean immigrant anymore.”
Pane said she wasn’t expecting eighth-grade gains to be as high as they were. As far as takeaways, there are interesting things to be learned, she said. “We are all about the whole child and a strengths-based approach. I think there are some interesting lessons here on that. In eighth grade, we can close (the gap) much faster than in fourth grade.”
Child Trends chose to use data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress to compare both short- and long-term gains of test scores because it is the largest nationally representative ongoing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. State assessments largely do not offer such apples-to-apples comparisons of students from different parts of the country.