Idaho Hispanic Students Scoring Below Classmates

KETCHUM, Idaho

Hispanic students continue to score below their non-Latino counterparts on statewide tests, prompting education initiatives to improve scores and slow a high school dropout rate that is higher than any other ethnic group in Idaho.

A recent report by the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs shows Latino students in third through eighth grades, and 10th graders, scored below their non-Hispanic classmates in reading, math and language skills based on 2006-2007 Idaho Standardized Achievement Test results.

“It wasn’t very surprising,” said Juan Saldana, a community resource specialist with the state Commission on Hispanic affairs.

Latinos make up the fastest-growing and largest ethnic group in the state, according to the report, and more than 35,900 students in Idaho have Hispanic heritage and make up 13.4 percent of the state’s total K-12 population.

Hispanics have historically scored lower when compared to white and other minority students on the tests, Saldana said. Still, the commission did not expect to see the gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students widen as students got older.

For instance, Saldana said, 4.8 percent of Hispanic third graders scored below proficiency levels in math on the tests, compared to 1.8 percent of non-Hispanic students who scored below proficiency levels.

In the 10th grade, 21.9 percent of Hispanic students scored below proficiency levels in math, while only 8.3 percent of non-Hispanic students failed the tests, Saldana said.

The commission reports similar gaps in reading and language skills test scores.

Hispanic students performed well in some schools, Saldana said, particularly within the Jerome School District where bilingual programs start in kindergarten.

But when compared with elementary and high school schools elsewhere in Idaho, “there’s probably a lot more failing than succeeding,” Saldana said.

The state Hispanic agency is among several groups looking for ways to target these students and improve their academic performance, decrease dropout rates and encourage more Latinos to pursue higher education options.

The Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs is co-hosting a two-day summit in July to address these challenges. Other statewide efforts include a recent symposium  in Sun Valley for 300 Latino high school students.

During the opening day, Hispanic students met with college recruiters and competed for scholarships; last year $1.6 million worth of scholarships were awarded during the symposium, said Debra Kahl, a spokeswoman for the Idaho National Laboratory, which also sponsored the event.

The symposium was created nearly two decades ago when organizers sought to correct a 60 percent dropout rate among Latino high school students.

While Hispanic dropout rates have improved since then, Latino students still accounted for 468 of the 2,100 Idaho high school students who dropped out last year, according to Idaho Department of Education statistics.

Ricardo Lopez, a bilingual claims representative with the U.S. Social Security administration, was among those who attended the first symposium in 1990 when he was a high school sophomore.

For Lopez, the symposium served as a wake-up call, helping him become the first in his family to graduate from high school. With the help of the Hispanic symposium, Lopez earned a scholarship to attend Idaho State University.

Now, Lopez, 34, is encouraging Hispanic students to take advantage of the same opportunities he did.

“I knew it was important for me to come back and contribute,” he said.

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