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Volume 19, Number 6
November/December 2003

Latino Achievement

How to Close the Gap


Despite the continuing gap in academic achievement between Latino students and their white peers nationwide, some schools, districts, and states are making notable progress in closing the gap, according to a recent summary and analysis of test scores compiled by the Education Trust, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that works to improve academic opportunities for K–16 students.

The group's researchers analyzed recent information from a wide variety of national and state education sources, including National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, U.S. Census statistics, funding data from the U.S. Department of Education, and state education databases. The organization then identified schools and districts with large numbers of minority students and students in poverty achieving at a high level. For example, for the past three years, 7th- and 8th-grade ­students at the Hambrick Middle School in Aldine, Tex., have scored in the top fifth of the state's middle schools in both reading and math statewide assessments. The school is 71 percent Latino and 85 percent poor.

"We look closely at the schools that are doing well," says Paul Ruiz, principal partner at the Education Trust. "We're on the phone, at the [school] site, talking to principals, talking to faculty, and they tell us their stories."

In these conversations, researchers identified several common practices among the successful schools. These include:

  • Providing clear and public standards for what all students should learn at benchmark grade levels.
  • Offering those students challenging, standards-based curricula. According to the study, fewer than half of U.S. Latino high school students take Algebra 2, while nearly two-thirds of their white peers tackle the subject. Similar patterns exist in Chemistry.
  • Providing extra instruction to students as needed. Rigorous classes can improve student achievement, but some students require extra support to succeed in these courses, the researchers say.
  • Ensuring that teachers are well prepared to teach their subjects. "Only in this profession do we assign our least qualified staff to the area with the greatest need," Ruiz says.
  • Closing funding gaps. In most states, the study noted, districts with high numbers of minority students receive far less money per student than districts with the fewest minority students. Therefore, to narrow the achievement gap, states must first close the funding gap.

The great challenge, the researchers concede, is determining how to achieve such gains on a large scale. On a national level, many Latino students continue to read poorly and struggle with mathematics. On the latest NAEP, 57 percent of Latinos scored below the basic reading level in 4th grade, while 60 percent of Latino 8th graders scored below basic in math. These problems continue into high school and lead to low college enrollment levels and completion rates among Latinos, the study notes. If current rates remain, only 11 out of every 100 Latino kindergartners will obtain bachelor's degrees.

For Further Information

For Further Information

Education Trust. Latino Achievement in America. Washington, DC: Author, 2003.

Education Trust. The Funding Gap Report (2003). Washington, DC: Author, 2003.

Education Trust
, 1725 K St. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006; 202-293-1217; fax: 202-293-2605.