Focus on Higher-Order Literacy SkillsBy Nonie Lesaux
After years of attention from educators but little measurable achievement growth, something more has to be done to address the instructional needs of Hispanic students. The opportunity gap between Hispanics and their more-advantaged peers is still too wide, and high-school graduation rates are still too low. What’s more, demographic trends indicate that there is no time to waste: the Hispanic population is not only the nation’s largest immigrant group, but has accounted for 56 percent of U.S. population growth in the past two decades. As a result, linguistic diversity is increasingly characteristic of today’s classrooms. Unless educators design instruction to match the demographics of today’s students, as the Hispanic population continues to grow and to grow up, so too will the number of students experiencing difficulties. With this knowledge, policymakers and practitioners alike are eager to determine how to bolster English-language literacy among the Hispanic population at scale.
Hispanic Students in Context
Focusing education reform plans more effectively requires an understanding of context, in this case, key characteristics of the Hispanic population and the schools they attend. For example, the majority of Hispanic students in today’s classrooms are not “newcomers,” enrolling as older children and adolescents, but instead are U.S.-born children of immigrants. These families often associate the U.S. with better opportunities and a better life for the next generation, based on education and schooling. They enroll their young children in early education and care settings and kindergarten classrooms and think favorably about the U.S. public education system (see “Reform Agenda Gains Strength,” features, Winter 2013).
Yet, whether Hispanic children receive English-as-a-second-language support or not, many of them are performing well below average by middle-school entry. At the same time, Hispanic students in the U.S. are overwhelmingly growing up in poverty and attending high-minority schools, in which many of their peers are also at-risk for school failure. The 2011 8th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that only 18 percent of Hispanic students and 14 percent of black students read at or above proficiency levels. These populations also post higher rates of grade retention and lower rates of high-school graduation than their majority-culture peers. In the U.S., Hispanic and black students are attending increasingly segregated and underresourced schools. According to a 2012 report by the Civil Rights Project, 80 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students are enrolled in economically and racially segregated schools. Classrooms in these schools provide them with fewer opportunities to learn than their peers from higher-income backgrounds enjoy.
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