In the very near future, Latino students will become the majority in California's public schools and because of their great numbers and presence, the pattern of lackluster academic achievement must be a major concern of teachers, school leaders, and policy makers. Despite having made great strides in narrowing the gap that separated them from their White classmates during the 1960s and 1970s, the academic progress of Latino students declined in the mid-1980s.
Although there has been some improvement in the achievement of Latinos during the past three decades, their achievement gains in relation to the achievement of White students has been insignificant. The poor academic achievement of Latino students is indicative of a complex, multifaceted problem that must be addressed because as the Latino student population continues to grow, their poor achievement especially in mathematics and reading has significant implications not only for California's public educational system, but also for the state's and nation's social, political, and economic future.
According to the Federal Interagency on Child and Family Statistics (2009), although there are a variety of subjects and many combinations of subjects by which to gauge academic progress, reading achievement and mathematics achievement data not only serve as valid indicators of scholastic success, but also are legitimate indicators of a student's ability to think, learn, and communicate. For example, the California Department of Education employs a number of tests and assessments in reading and mathematics as a basis for measuring academic progress, such as the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, the California Modified Assessment (CMA), and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).
The STAR program includes California Standards Tests (CSTs) in reading and mathematics, and two of the three subject areas addressed by the CMA deal with reading and mathematics. Additionally, the CAHSEE assessment array includes assessments in mathematics as well as reading. Thus it is safe to conclude that assessments in reading and mathematics comprise the basic foundation upon which student achievement is measured in California. Furthermore, on a national level, academic achievement is again largely based upon student performance in mathematics and reading.
National and California Latino Achievement
Although Latino students may have attained some modest gains in scholastic achievement, making gains and closing the achievement gap are not one and the same. The gap between Latino students and their White classmates persists. For example, from 1975 to 2008 there was no significant narrowing of the achievement gap between White and Latino 17 year-olds based on test data generated by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). According to Rampey, Dion, and Donahue (2009), in 1973 the reading achievement gap in terms of scale scores between White and Latino students was 41, with Whites achieving a score of 293 and Latinos reaching a score of 252. In 2008, the gap narrowed to 26, 295 for Whites and 269 for Latinos.
Regarding mathematics achievement in 1973, White adolescents attained a mean scale score of 310 on NAEP assessments and Latinos reached a mean scale score of 277, a gap of 33. In 2008, the difference narrowed to 21 with Whites achieving a mean scale score of 314 and Latinos attaining a mean scale score of 293.
The achievement gap in California between Latino and White students is similar to what Latinos and Whites have experienced on a national level. As an illustration, according to the California Department of Education (2002) during the 2000-2001 academic year, only 25% of Latino high school students passed the mathematics portion of the CAHSEE whereas 64% of the White students were successful.
Regarding language arts, 48% of Latinos passed and 82% of White students passed. As of March 2010, according to the California Department of Education (2010), the mathematics achievement gap between Latino students and White students changed slightly as 68% of Latinos passed in contrast to the 90% passing rate of their White classmates. In language arts, 66% of Latinos passed whereas 90% of White students prevailed.
During the period from 2003 to 2009, according to STAR results released by the California Department of Education, Latinos made little progress in closing the achievement gap in language arts and mathematics (see Tables 1 and 2). What is alarming about the academic achievement of Latinos is that in 2009 Latinos had yet to reach the same levels of achievement as Whites in 2003. Clearly, the gap is not narrowing.
Factors that Affect Latino Student Achievement
Irrespective of the size of the gap between the achievement of Latino and White students, the achievement of Latinos in language arts and mathematics is dismal at best, which indicates something is amiss not only with the nation's schools, but especially in the K-12 schools in California. The problem is complex and its solution will not be found in a specific program, intervention, or curriculum because the academic achievement of Latinos is affected by many factors including the conditions of the schools in which Latino students are enrolled, the quality of coursework, the manner in which teachers teach, how teachers and school leaders perceive Latino students, the allocation of resources, parents' expectations, parent empowerment, and teacher preparation.
For example, Barton and Coley (2009) identified factors or correlates that characterize achievement, the most prominent being curriculum rigor, the role of the teacher, class size, …