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Latino students still lagging academically despite state and national initiatives

391429 06: A young student in Ms. McFaul''s second grade Early Intervention Bilingual class looks closely at a math exam during a summer school June 3, 2001 at Brentano Academy in Chicago. More than half of Chicago''s 430,000 public school students must attend summer school this year before they can go on to the next grade, Chicago Public School officials say. Former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas said about 245,000 pupils failed to score high enough on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to be promoted. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

391429 06: A young student in Ms. McFaul''s second grade Early Intervention Bilingual class looks closely at a math exam during a summer school June 3, 2001 at Brentano Academy in Chicago. More than half of Chicago''s 430,000 public school students must attend summer school this year before they can go on to the next grade, Chicago Public School officials say. Former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas said about 245,000 pupils failed to score high enough on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to be promoted. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)  (Getty)

While reading scores for Hispanic students increased in some states, recent data suggests that progress is slowing across the board, according to a new report released by Child Trends Hispanic Institute

State and national standardized testing scores for Hispanic students are also far below those of their white counterparts, even decades after reforms aimed at reversing the trend began, according to data evaluated by Fox News Latino.

In an attempt to level the playing field, a few years back a national push encouraged states to introduce new educational benchmarks known as the Common Core Standards. Supporters argued that the new learning standards would bring uniformity to educational levels across the states and increase rigor. Annual tests would illustrate how the students fared on these new standards.

Three years into testing, the results aren’t heartening for the Latino community. A higher percentage of Hispanic students are failing the exams rather than passing them.

In other words, nothing has changed much. Results on a long-administered national exam called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, have been similar since the assessments began in 1969.

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“The disparities have been around for a long time,” said Pedro Noguera, a professor of Education at UCLA who studies race and urban education. “The scores are correlated to race and socioeconomic status.”

The news isn’t all bad. In a lot of meaningful ways, Hispanic students are performing better than ever. High school graduation rates and enrollment in colleges are at an all-time high for Hispanics. They are also scoring higher than ever on standardized exams. But so are white students — meaning the gap has persisted mostly invariable since legislative moves to help level the playing field for underserved students began in 1965.

“We have seen a lot of progress in their academic achievement,” said Brenda Calderon, policy analyst for the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group National Council of La Raza. “But I don’t think we’ve quite nailed it holistically.”

Along with other advocacy groups, Calderon worked on the Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest law addressing the education of underserved students. Passed in December, it is a version of “No Child Left Behind” that shifts the balance of power back to the states.

While she said the bill is a step in the right direction and that the input from civil rights groups was almost unprecedented, she said the bill isn’t ideal.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) put out a statement criticizing the bill for placing control in the hands of states and localities, some of which have historically failed to mitigate race and equity issues.

Both NAACP and La Raza have praised certain provisions of the new law, namely that measurements of the tests will be broken down into racial and ethnic groups, migrant status, economic status and English proficiency status. They also have to show progress for these groups, if they are underperforming. Data for school-based arrests, expulsions and suspensions also must be kept, which will impact students from marginalized communities.

But whether these changes are enough is up for debate. After all, in 2005, the Department of Education released a press release saying the precursor to this bill, the No Child Left Behind Act, was a great success.

“The No Child Left Behind Act is working for Hispanic-Americans,” the release said, adding that the gap in achievement was at an all-time low. More recently, education activists have called it a failure and say the ESSA is, in some ways, a retreat from the bill.

One of the things “No Child Left Behind” did was increase the use of standardized tests to measure progress.

NAEP certainly existed before that and was considered the nation’s report card. Since 1990, NAEP records show, both whites and Hispanics have shown increases in average scores. The thing is, the difference between their scores hasn’t decreased substantially. Fourth-grade math tests showed a 20-point difference between the results of white children and Hispanic children in 1990. That difference only decreased by two points 35 years later.

Similarly, English language arts scores for white fourth-graders were 29 points higher than Hispanics in 1992. In 2015, the difference was 24 points. The difference in eighth-grade math scores hardly budged in 25 years.

And for Latino students, the increase in reading scores for grades four and eight showed levels increase about half a grade, according to the Child Trends Hispanic Institute study. In eighth grade, the scores fell between 2013 and 2015. 

Student progress varied widely depending on the state, according to the Child Trends study. In fourth grade, students in the state with the highest reading scores (Florida) were 2 1/2 grade levels above the lowest scoring state (Alabama). In eighth grade, the difference between high scoring Kentucky and low scorer Rhode Island was two grade levels. A third of the states saw improvements.

The standardized tests accompanying the Common Core Standards were similarly disheartening. In Washington, D.C., more than 70 percent of whites in grades 3 through 8 tested highest and therefore deemed college or career ready. Only about 20 percent of the Hispanics did.

In California, 49 percent of their white students either met or exceeded their statewide math standards, while 23 percent did not. For Hispanics, the results were reversed. Only 20 percent met or exceeded the state standards, but 48 percent did not. In English, 31 percent of Hispanics met or exceeded the state’s expectations, while 54 percent of whites did. About 39 percent of Hispanics did not meet the state’s expectations for English Language Arts, while only 18 percent of the white population didn’t.

In New York City, more than 50 percent of whites scored in the highest brackets in both math and English. However, only 23.7 percent of Hispanics scored that much in math and about 20 percent scored that in English, with about 40 percent of Hispanics scoring in the lowest bracket.

The New York City Hispanic students have performed better since the test was first offered, the Department of education argues. And since they started from lower scores, their gains are greater than their white counterparts.  Within the English-language learner population, 6.2 percent of the Hispanic students were proficient in math and 2.4 in English language arts.

“Despite changes to the state assessments, students demonstrated increased proficiency across all racial groups citywide in both English and Math in 2015,” said Yuridia Peña, New York City School’s deputy press secretary. “We are committed to setting the bar high and more students are meeting these rigorous standards.”

Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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