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Hispanic Students' Performance on NAEP


U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond J. Simon told a roomful of Latino leaders yesterday that the No Child Left Behind Act is working because it "has driven dramatic gains in math and reading achievement." Mr. Simon spoke at a meeting on Latino education held in Washington by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.

He cited examples of gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress as evidence that the federal education law is working for Hispanics as well as for all students. He said scores for 4th grade reading and math, for instance, "are higher than ever, including those of Hispanic students." My colleagues Sean Cavanagh and Kathleen Kennedy Manzo have written an article citing experts on what the 2007 NAEP gains mean. The article includes the views of people who contest the Education Department's argument that the rise in scores can be attributed to the NCLB Act, or to any single education program.

I take the opportunity here to relay a viewpoint by Richard Rothstein, a former education columnist and a research associate at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, that didn't make it into the Education Week article about NAEP. Mr. Rothstein included this view in a Sept. 26 e-mail message to Ms. Kennedy Manzo.

"I think that the Hispanic scores on NAEP are utterly meaningless," Mr. Rothstein wrote. He said: "The composition of the Hispanic student population (immigrant, second generation, third generation, etc.) has been changing; we should not expect the same outcomes from recent immigrants as from third generation and beyond Hispanics, who should be fully, or nearly fully, assimilated. NAEP should drop reports of Hispanic scores, unless it can disaggregate such scores by mother's place of birth (data that is not presently collected, but which would be easy to collect from the NAEP sample)."

It's an important point to remember in looking at any data about Hispanic students that they are very diverse. Forty-five percent of Latino children, according to an issue brief by the National Council of La Raza, are English-language learners. An increasing number of those English-language learners are born in the United States rather than in a foreign country.

I see a need for more talk about how to improve education for Latinos who were born in this country and who, after years in U.S. schools, still don't have the literacy skills to get out of the category of being ELLs.


Mr. Rothstein might have his heart in the right place, but the fact is, 88% of Hispanics ages 18 and under are U.S. citizens by birth and another 1% are naturalized citizens. It's important to keep this in mind before making calls to disappear an entire NCLB subgroup from NAEP reporting and by extension from NCLB. The NAEP by no means captures all students' academic performance, particularly that of ELLs, but let's not continue assuming that all Latino or ELL kids are immigrants. It muddies the debate.

There are many factors to consider when talking about improving literacy skills for Latinos, born in the US. In Florida, infusion became accepted practice; i.e. put an ELL in a mainstream class and the teacher will modify instruction for that student. I do not believe there is any pedadogical theory or research support for this methodology but nevertheless, it is implemented. Infusion is also methodology at the college/university level for preservice teachers. No separate course focusing on ELLs are required, but rather performance standards related to ELLs are included in teacher education courses.

Some reading teachers in Northern Florida believe that teaching Reading to ELLs is just the same as any student and complained about needing appropriate training for ELLs. Infusion did not help them distinguish between the needs of native speakers and non-native speakers.

So teachers often walk into the classroom ill-prepared for buidling literacy skills and then a placed in a teaching situation where it is a great challenge develop and implement effective instruction for ELL students.

Then, at least here in Florida, we really don't have data on ELL language development. What is known about ELL performance is based on the FCAT, a State exam designed for native speakers.

Quality teacher training, program designs that make sense, and meaningful data that inform training and program needs are basic ways to improve education for ELLs.

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