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posted: 11/2/2012 11:11 AM

Editorial: Close the Latino 'achievement gap'

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Educators routinely question the value of standardized tests, saying they are not a solid measure of student progress. Certainly, in the suburbs they can be questioned, when, for example, only six of DuPage County's 30 schools are making "adequate yearly progress" on statewide tests as reported earlier this week.

Intuitively, we know that suburban schools are doing better than that measure would attest, but No Child Left Behind standards make it difficult for schools to get the top marks. That is why the tests are questioned and why new standards adopted by Illinois and 47 other states for tests beginning with the 2014-15 school year may do better at benchmarking schools and students.

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But what the current tests do show quite clearly is that there is an "achievement gap" for the rapidly growing Hispanic student population, and that needs to be fixed, no matter what test is used to assess student progress.

As reported Wednesday by Daily Herald staff writer Melissa Silverberg, statistics from the 2012 state report cards show suburban Hispanic students are scoring significantly lower than their classmates. For example, 11th-grade Latino students score 15 to 22 points lower on state science, math and reading tests.

That's a significant gap, even though those suburban Hispanics are doing better than other Hispanic students in the state.

What can be done? Well, we are happy to say schools in the Daily Herald circulation area are addressing this gap with hopes of improving skills in these key areas, no matter what test is used.

"A growing percentage of our workforce population are Hispanic in this state and nationwide," Wheeling High School Principal Lazaro Lopez told Silverberg. "We need them to be as educated and successful as their non-Hispanic counterparts, because it's going to have a direct impact on our economy."

With that in mind, Wheeling High School became a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school in 2010, which helps students plan courses around a future career in such things as engineering or manufacturing.

Wheeling Hispanic students are outperforming their peers in math in the suburbs and statewide, one measure of success of the program.

Hispanic students at Larkin High School in Elgin similarly have seen an increase in their scores in reading (5.9 percentage points), math (11.4 percentage points) and science (12.5 percentage points). School officials attribute that to a focus on reading and writing skills.

"If they succeed, we all succeed," said Principal Jon Tuin.

Indeed. These schools -- along with Harper College's efforts at working with its feeder schools on this issue -- deserve kudos for bridging this gap. We hope to see even more improvement from all suburban schools in future years.

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