In more-detailed data tables not included in the report, Mr. Buckley said researchers have found that within the Hispanic student group as a whole, "it would appear we have evidence that the cohorts of lowest-performing kids have increased [their scores] at a higher rate than the higher-performing kids." Yet these gains among the lowest-performing Hispanic students have not yet been enough to close the gaps between the two groups appreciably, he said. "Whatever policies have [been] implemented ... in the last 20 years or so ... would not have appeared to have been effective at closing the gaps, though they did seem to be effective in raising scores for both groups," Mr. Buckley said.
As of 2009, Hispanic students trailed non-Hispanic white students by more than two grade levels across the board, including national math gaps of 21 points in 4th grade and 26 points in 8th grade, as well as reading gaps of 25 points in 4th grade and 24 in 8th grade.
Most states hewed close to the national average gap, but Hispanic students in some states fared better than others. Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wyoming all had achievement gaps smaller than 15 points in both grades and subjects, while California and Connecticut had larger achievement gaps than the national average in math and in 4th grade reading. Several states did not have sufficient data on Hispanic or white students in given assessments to be included in the NAEP report at all.
Iris M. Chavez, the education policy coordinator for the Washington-based League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, said her group has been monitoring NAEP results "very closely" for the past few years. The state NAEP results, she said, "unfortunately are not surprising. It definitely matches what we're hearing from our advocates at work in districts and states, exacerbated by the budget problems we've seen at the state and district levels."
Ms. Chavez partially attributes the lack of progress in some of the states with large Hispanic student populations to waves of recent laws, particularly in heavily Hispanic Southwestern states, requiring English-only instruction and greater scrutiny of immigrant students entering public schools.
"From LULAC's perspective, you've seen some really backward movement in those states," she said. "While those states should have been the ones making the biggest gains, politically they've moved backwards, and that has had a tremendous detrimental effect on these students."
Florida, however, is bucking the trend. It was second only to California in having the largest Hispanic student population in grades 4 and 8 in 2009, but while California had wider achievement gaps for Hispanic students than the national average, Florida had less than half the national reading gap in grades 4 and 8. Gaps in math were 6 points smaller in 4th grade and 11 points smaller in 8th grade, compared with the national averages.
"We feel fortunate to have a state assessment system and the NAEP to balance and compare, to make sure we are headed in the right direction," said Mary Jane Tappen, Florida's deputy chancellor for curriculum, instruction, and student services.
The state's K-12 chancellor, Michael Grego, said Florida has made significant policy changes targeting the Hispanic achievement gap in the past decade, including requiring any school administrator or teacher in a core content area or an elective who will have at least one ELL student to go through 60 hours of training "focused on specific strategies about how best to teach someone learning the English language." English teachers must receive 300 hours of training in teaching English as a second language.
The state also has an advisory committee including Hispanic parents and community members who weigh in on any changes to the state's accountability system or English-language-proficiency program.
"We're dedicated to closing the achievement gap by half by 2014," Ms. Tappen said. "It would have been to our students' disadvantage if we had not had high expectations and continued to push."
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