Hispanic educators urge bilingual boost due to MCAS

Hispanic educators armed with abysmal failure rates of Hispanics on the 1998 MCAS test called on the state and local school officials to hire better teachers, replace crumbling inner-city schools and delay requiring passage of the test for graduation.

Without a dramatic change in the approach to educating Hispanic students, using the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System as a graduation requirement in 2003 could boost drop-out rates and create a new “underclass” of poorly educated Hispanics, one academic said.

“I don’t see now any significant changes that indicate to me the results will be any different three years from now, when you’ll have to pass the MCAS to graduate,” said Ismael Ramirez-Soto, dean of the college of public and community service at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

He said the Department of Education needs to add staff in the area of bilingual education programs and school districts need to hire better qualified bilingual teachers.

Working with Department of Education statistics, the university’s Gaston Institute held a strategy session yesterday highlighting data that showed Hispanics performing the poorest out of all ethnic groups on the test.

If the test were required for graduation today, 83 percent of the Hispanic students wouldn’t graduate because they failed the math portion of the 10th-grade test, according to the study.

In addition, 70 percent of the 10th-grade Hispanic students failed the science and 58 percent failed the English section.

“What we are seeing here are the results of things that are not being taught,” said Sandra Alvarado, executive director of the Latino Parents Association. “There are gaps here.”

Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll has said MCAS results will be analyzed in order to combat the achievement gap on the test and in classrooms.

Board of Education member Abigail Thernstrom said reform will reach all students. But Hispanic students need to focus on mastering English. “Money is not the problem,” said Thernstrom. “English is the language of this country. It’s the language they are going to have to know.”

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