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Report: State Is Narrowing Achievement Gap Between Hispanic And White Students In Math, But Not In Reading

Grace E. Merritt

June 23, 2011

HARTFORD Connecticut has started to close the achievement gap between Hispanic and white students in math, but not in reading, according to a national report released Thursday.

But despite the gains, Connecticut still has a larger achievement gap in both math and reading compared with the rest of the nation, partly because scores for Connecticut's white students are higher than for white students elsewhere in the nation, the report said.

The study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that Connecticut had slightly narrowed the gap in math between whites and Hispanics in the fourth and eighth grades but remained stagnant in reading, according to 2009 test results, the most recent statistics available. On a national level, the gap has remained unchanged for the past two decades, the study found.

The Hispanic population has grown dramatically both nationally and in Connecticut. Forty years ago, Hispanics made up less than 2 percent of all fourth-graders nationally. Today, they make up more than 21 percent, according to the study.

In Connecticut, the Hispanic school population grew from 3.5 percent to 19.2 percent in the same period, making it the fastest-growing segment of the population.

The state has long struggled with an economic and racial academic achievement gap despite its relative wealth. The problem has stayed in the background for years, but only relatively recently has it become too visible to ignore, said Estela Lopez, a senior program official for Excelencia in Education and a member of the state board of education.

"It's become so in-your-face that it cannot continue," Lopez said. "In Connecticut, it's embarrassing. This is a state that has resources. There are some students who are doing very well and are very high-scoring on tests. It is only the children in the urban schools who are not doing well."

Tom Murphy, a state Department of Education spokesman, agreed.

"What this report tells us is that this is a long-term, structural problem that we need to address," Murphy said. "It is an important achievement gap. It is really the Connecticut story: the achievement gap between Hispanics, many of whom are limited English-proficient, and the white population."

For years, Connecticut has been working with urban school districts to use data to improve instruction. Four years ago, the state also used a $10 million grant to launch a targeted early reading skills program in urban classrooms. But the state is no longer funding the reading program.

The gap signals trouble ahead for Connecticut's economy, Lopez said.

"We have a young population that is Hispanic and growing and is not being prepared to go to college," she said. ""And we have an older population that will need to be supported by the younger population."

Lopez disagrees with theories that the problem lies with students who don't know English. She points out that students who speak only Spanish still understand math concepts, she said. The problem lies with schools that are ill-equipped to teach English-language learners, she said.

The state has also proposed opening an institute at Eastern Connecticut State University to instruct teachers on how to teach English-language learners. The proposal was part of the state's application for the federal Race to the Top grant, but when Connecticut failed to win the grant, the plans were put on hold.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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