Report evaluates education progress among local Latinos

The latest report documenting educational inequalities between Latinos and other students in the county shows Latino high-schoolers drop out more,
score lower on college entrance exams and take less rigorous courses than most of their peers.

The report also shows some promise among younger pupils. A majority of Latinos in second and third grades are scoring above the national average on the state-mandated annual math test. In most grades, Latinos’ scores have improved more than those of other students on the math test. The San Diego County Latino Coalition for Education, a network of educators and community leaders who advocate for the education of Latinos, compiled the report for their sixth annual summit last week.

The report reaffirms the long-standing achievement gap. Because of language barriers, poverty and other factors, Latinos often score lower on tests than whites and other students, experts say.

San Diego State University Professor Alberto Ochoa, the report’s main author, said its purpose is to highlight inequalities in hopes of prodding educators to do more to correct them.

It is increasingly important to focus on Latinos, Ochoa said, because within four years they will surpass whites as the largest ethnic group among county public school students.

The bad news:

[] Latinos drop out of high school more often than students from other ethnicities. About 58 percent of Latinos who entered high school in 1996 graduated in 2000, compared with 61 percent of blacks, 77 percent of whites and 85 percent of Asians.

[] Latinos’ SAT scores were down in the past decade, while scores for whites, blacks and Asians increased.

[] Thirty percent of Latino ninth-graders passed the math portion of the new high school exit exam on their first try, better than the 27 percent of blacks but far behind the 69 percent of Asians and 70 percent of whites.

The good news:

[] Local Latinos score far higher on the SAT than Latinos across the state.

[] Though they still qualify for admission to the University of California and California State University systems far less often than whites and Asians, more Latinos are completing the necessary courses. For the class of 2000, 21.2 percent of Latinos in the county completed the 15 UC/CSU required courses, up from 16.2 percent of the class of 1996. Sweetwater Union High School and San Diego Unified School districts have posted notable gains in recent years.

[] Last year, 51 percent of Latino third-graders countywide scored above the national average on the state-mandated Stanford 9 math test, compared with 27 percent four years ago.

While the report notes that two-thirds of all Latino kindergarteners do not speak English fluently, it does not directly address Proposition 227, the 1998 voter-approved initiative that ordered an end to most bilingual education programs.

In Oceanside, one of the few places to eliminate instruction in Spanish outright, Latinos showed consistent gains in state reading and math scores.
Latinos’ scores also improved in districts such as Vista, San Ysidro and Chula Vista, where bilingual education continues through parental permission as provided for in the initiative.

At Parkview Elementary School in Chula Vista, Latino second-graders scored well above both district and national averages on the math test in the spring.

Now third-graders, they spent yesterday in their daily one-hour math lesson learning about digits in both English and Spanish. The class is a mix of students ranging from longtime residents comfortable with English to students who had come from Mexico only in recent weeks.

Ochoa said that he is encouraged by the gains in the lower grades and that the high school data would put pressure on educators to do more for Latinos.

The report makes no recommendations, but Ochoa pointed to several obstacles that need to be removed to help Latinos. He said Latinos disproportionately attend large schools in poor neighborhoods and study under less-experienced teachers than their wealthier peers do.

While researchers have not definitively tied learning to school size, many findings indicate that small schools correlate with improved student attitudes and attendance.

The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT college entrance exam, long has documented that SAT scores tend to rise with the family income of test takers. Some researchers point to teacher quality as the single most important factor in student learning.

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