Hispanic students have made significant strides toward increasing the average scores on national math tests over the course of the last decade, with public school students in cities including Washington, D.C., making some of the most impressive progress, according to a study released Monday by the Child Trends Hispanic Institute.
According to the National Assessment on Education Progress, a biennially released measure of progress by K-12 public school students across the country, Hispanic students’ average math scores rose by 13 points in eighth grade and nine points in fourth grade between 2003 and 2013 nationally. In the public schools in the District, scores rose 21 points for fourth-graders and 16 points for eighth-graders between those dates.
Natalie Pane, author of the study and senior vice president of research operations at Child Trends, said that the results reflected an increased quality of education from D.C. public schools.
“Washington, D.C., was named as one of our honorable mentions,” Pane said. “This was because D.C. [made] … significant gains statistically and educationally. [D.C.] was able to come from near the bottom and move up into the mid-range of scores for 2013, an impressive feat.”
However, D.C.’s consistent growth has paled in comparison to the significant progress made by schools in Miami, Charlotte, Houston, Boston, Dallas and Austin. Washington has seen no significant short-term increase in scores in recent years, Pane said.
“D.C. was not named as a top-tier notable district because, after many years of consistent and strong gains, the recent scores have been level. There were no statistically significant increases in the short-term,” Pane said.
Over the long term, however, Pane noted that the trends in D.C. related to Hispanic students were moving in a positive direction. In 2003, 8 percent of students taking the grade-four NAEP assessment in District schools were Hispanic. By 2013, 14 percent of the students were Hispanic. At the same time, however, the percentage of English language learners who are Hispanic in D.C. dropped from 51 percent in 2003 to only 37 percent in 2013.
“[But] this change was not enough to account for much of the score increases,” Pane said.
According to D.C. Schools Coordinator Sinead Carolan (SFS ’17), the progress of Hispanic students has been reflected in their attitudes toward school and learning.
“Several of our tutees really enjoy doing their math homework above their reading homework,” Carolan said. “[This] is potentially a result of the fact that they cannot speak English very well, but have an easier time understanding the universal language of numbers.”
Education reform has been a contested issue in District politics, featured prominently in the mayoral election campaign earlier this month. Current Mayor Vincent Gray emphasized the issue throughout his term as well, claiming credit for the substantial improvements.
“Our education reforms [are yielding] positive results and businesses are eager to stake their claim in the District,” Gray said in a statement on his website.
Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser promised to keep education reform central to her campaign a priority during her term, as the quality of public schools in the District is very unequal across wards.
According to Pane, this level of inequality between schools is not uncommon in large cosmopolitan areas.
“The District has rates of poverty comparable to other large urban districts,” Pane said.
In the United States as a whole, there has been a large increase in the size of the Hispanic population, pointing to the necessity of improving the performance of Hispanic students and developing ways to measure this performance. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, within the next 50 years, America will “become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority.”
Pane explained that the NAEP provides a standard of comparison across diverse states.
“The NAEP is critical to our understanding of what students across the United States know and can do,” Pane said. “Each state sets its own standards for proficiency on their state tests. NAEP proficiency is the same for everyone.”
Pane is hopeful that the prominence of the NAEP and the work of Child Trends will draw attention to the importance of education reform.
“Investment in education reform is justifiable for our economic growth and stability, our health and well-being, and maintaining a civil and just society,” Pane said. “Even though we don’t know exactly how to push the lever at full scale, we have enough examples of successful changes that we know we can do it better.”