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Report: Latino Students in Rhode Island Struggling

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Rhode Island may not be a state that comes immediately to mind when the challenges of Latino students are discussed.

But the state has a rapidly growing population, especially in its larger cities. While other states have large Mexican origin populations, Rhode Island tends to draw from other groups such as Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, and Guatemalans.

A new report finds that the academic achievement gap between Latino and white students in Rhode Island is among the worst in the nation, and English Language Learners in particular are struggling mightily.

According to the study, about 22 percent of the state’s public school students are Latino, but only about 1.5 percent of teachers are Hispanic.  Latino students now are 63 percent of the student enrollment in Providence, 72 percent in Central Falls and a sizable number in Pawtucket. Additionally, on average Latinos in the state earn less than those elsewhere in the country.

The Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University released a report looking at Hispanic achievement in the state, entitled “Latino Students in Rhode Island: A Review of Local and National Performances.” 

The researchers analyzed the results of two assessments to make their findings — the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).

The report singles out the Providence schools as having the greatest need to reform its programs for ELL students. It also recommends creating a statewide ELL task force to identify best practices. The study emphasizes the need to increase the number of Latino teachers and principals in the state.

“The study is fair and long overdue,” the superintendent of the Central Falls school system, Frances Gallo, told the Providence Journal. “I don’t consider it an indictment, I consider it a reality.”

According to the report, the achievement gap on the NAEP exam between Latino and white students on fourth and eighth grade math exams is among the ten worst in the nation. They also score lower in math and reading when compared against Latino students elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, white and black students do not fare as poorly when compared to peers nationally.

Additionally, eighth grade math achievement for ELLs in the state ranks last in the country. Additionally, Rhode Island state officials say that the dropout rate for Latinos is about 20 percent, compared with a 10 percent dropout rate for white students.

Education officials are trying to make improvements. Central Falls is requiring that all teachers become ESL certified. And in Providence, ELLs will not only be segregated in ESL classes all day long, the Journal reported.