Idaho lags in boosting Latino student education achievements

Posted at 2:09 AM, Oct 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-28 04:09:53-04

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's State Department of Education has a long-term goal to improve tests scores and other education achievements by Latino students but the plan has seen little success in its first two years.

The strategy for reaching those goals has been left to districts and schools and outcomes have not changed so far, the Idaho Statesman reported . Latino students make up 18% of the state public school enrollment but achievement scores continue to lag behind state averages.

Officials say improving Latino student outcomes is an urgent need for the good of Idaho's workforce.

"If these students are not successful, then Idaho is not going to be successful," said Rod Gramer, CEO of Idaho Business for Education.

Hispanic Idaho residents participate in the workforce at higher rates than non-Hispanics, said Priscilla Salant, former director of the McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Idaho jobs of the future will require some sort of secondary degree, she said.

"That puts even more pressure on our education system to make sure Hispanic kids aren't left behind in school," Salant said.

Idaho public schools serve about 55,000 Latino children. Most live in the southern part of the state in agricultural areas and cities along the Snake River Plain. Almost all of Idaho's Latino youth were born in the United States.

Idaho's Latino children are more than twice as likely to face poverty as white children, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Roughly 29% live in homes with income below the federal poverty rate, compared to 11% of white children.

Idaho's Latino students are unlikely to have teachers from similar backgrounds. Roughly 90% of the teachers in the 10 Idaho school districts with the highest percentage of Latino students are white, according to an Idaho Press report earlier this year.

The Idaho State Department of Education has specialized programs to help English learners and "migrant" students, whose families move frequently for work. The programs focus on helping disadvantaged succeed in school and go on to higher education.

The state also offers an Advanced Opportunities program that supports Spanish speakers earning college credit by passing a language exam. Otherwise, most State Department of Education efforts are not specifically targeted at Latino students or other groups, said spokeswoman Kris Rodine.

Karlynn Laraway, state director of assessment and accountability, said addressing academic performance of one group of students is a difficult on a statewide level. Latino students likely have different needs in different communities, she said. The department's plan to improve Latino student achievement, she said, is to connect local school districts to resources they need.

"The work really happens in local schools and districts and communities," Laraway said.