Published January 11, 2013
Idaho's work toward helping Latino students with reading skills and vocabulary has paid off.
Latino students in the Gem State test higher in those categories than Hispanics in the rest of the country.
While Latinos are primarily thought of as citizens of the Southwest or Northeast, Idaho has a large Hispanic community. About 11 percent of Idaho is Hispanic, while the national average is 16 percent, according to the Census.
Compare that to New York, where 18 percent of the population is Hispanic, but far from states like California (38 percent) and New Mexico (47 percent).
According to a recently released report by the National Assessment of Education Progress, which looked at 2011 scores, Hispanics averaged a 247 out of 500 nationwide on their vocabulary tests.
In Idaho and Michigan, which has a small Hispanic population, the average for Latinos was 251. Whites nationally average 274, and the African Americans average is 246. The average for whites in Idaho was 263.
“It’s very pleasing to us that we’re beginning to see closure of the gap that we’ve been working against for so long,” said Margie Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, a state run non-partisan agency.
Gonzalez said that while the state still lacks Latinos in policy roles, the Education Board and people in power have been very helpful in helping them “close the gap.”
“This is the first real sign of progress we’ve seen and we’re really excited about it," said Melissa McGrath, Communication Director for the Idaho State Department of Education.
According to McCarthy, other states have reached out to Idaho to find out what they're doing right.
"We have programs in place to help Hispanic students and our agency goes out of the way to help schools where Hispanic students are struggling," McGrath said.
Experts visit schools and discuss strategic plans to address any educational gaps.
Gonzalez said it's a common misconception that there's no real Latino community in a place like Idaho.
“That is an issue that we’re working on,” said Gonzalez. “We seem to surprise people at conferences when we show up.”
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