School test scores show racial gap

William Thompson

The New Mexico Public Education Department recently released the 2004 Standards-Based Assessment scores. Although the scores show marked improvement overall by fourth and eighth-grade students, Hispanic students continue to lag behind Caucasian students statewide in language arts and mathematics.

Veronica Garcia, Phd., New Mexico’s Secretary of Education, said the differences in performance can be attributed to economics. “Traditionally, Hispanic families tend to trail behind economically.” said Garcia. “When a family trails behind economically, the children in the home are not as exposed to books and newspapers.” Garcia also said if an Hispanic student is speaking another language prior to entering school, it is harder for that student to keep up because of the necessity of developing English language skills that other students already possess.

According to the 2004 scores, 52 percent of Caucasian eighth graders statewide were rated proficient in language arts while 42 percent of Hispanic eighth graders were proficient. In mathematics, 52 percent of Caucasian eighth- graders were proficient while 37 percent of Hispanic eighth-graders were proficient. William Reents, Ph.D, Superintendent of Tucumcari Schools, said he is aware of the gap between Hispanics and Caucasians and his teachers are taking proactive steps. “We’ve got all kinds of tutorial programs in place,” said Reents, “but it all depends on what the children choose to do with what we teach them. If the parents are involved and work with their children, then the children will have success.”

Reents said a student’s home life is crucial no matter his or her race. “We’ve got Caucasian kids that are at the bottom because they do not have a satisfactory home life. The parents must become involved.” Reents’ executive assistant, Sonia Raftery, herself an Hispanic, said there are differences in the way Caucasian and Hispanic children learn. “I have my own personal theory. In teaching how to cook, a Caucasian family will teach their child to learn from a recipe in a book. Already the young Caucasian child is used to reading books to gain information,” she said, “but in an Hispanic home the children learn more by doing and by being shown than by reading a book on a subject. That is why it is harder for Hispanic children to catch up once they enter school.”

Raftery said educators are taking the way the two cultures learn into account. “Teachers are beginning to understand how the different cultures learn,” said Raftery. “We are in the process of educating our staff on the different ways to reach students.”