Achievement Gap for Hispanic Students Hasn't Narrowed in 20 Years

Article excerpt

A first-of-its kind NAEP report finds hints of progress, but mostly a stubborn achievement gap between Hispanic and white students.

In 20 years, the national achievement gap between Hispanic students and their non-Hispanic white peers hasn't budged.

But hints of progress can be found with a closer look at low- income Hispanics or those who already know the English language. And some states stand out for gaps considerably lower than the national average.

This first-of-its kind report on the Hispanic-white gap comes as Congress is considering how to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the federal law that has attempted to narrow gaps based on race, income, and other factors. Questions loom about how much of that accountability system will stay in place, and what specific role the federal government will play in pushing for the progress of Hispanic students.

"I fear people will say ... that these kids are not worth it, [and that they] come with all these problems outside of school that make closing the achievement gap impossible," says Raul Gonzalez, director of legislative affairs at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group based in Washington.

Gaps may not have closed yet, but it's too soon to give up, Mr. Gonzalez says. Policies are changing - moving toward more accurate assessments for foreign-language speakers, for instance. "We are talking about the academic achievement of poor minority kids.... That conversation is completely different today than it was 10 years ago, and it's because of this focus on raising standards and accountability."

Thursday's report, "Achievement Gaps," is the latest analysis from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tracks student achievement over time and allows for comparison among states. This analysis focuses on reading and math scores in Grades 4 and 8 between 1990 and 2009.

Since the early 1990s, "there's been overall growth in reading and math for both whites and Hispanics,... but the gap really hasn't closed," says Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees NAEP.

In 2009, the national gaps between Hispanics and whites ranged from 21 to 26 points on NAEP scales. The gaps are significant, Mr. Buckley says. In practical terms, here's an example of what they mean:

In fourth-grade math in 2009, the average Hispanic score of 227 corresponds with the "basic" skill level, and it indicates that students can make a pictograph of given information, and can determine, in a multiple-choice question, how many given pieces cover a shape. …