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Nation’s US History 2010 Report Card shows gains for Latino students but surprising discovery for whites

LatinaLista — Not knowing American history has become an easy source of cheap laughs for late-night comics. For example, when comic Jay Leno, during one of his popular “Jaywalking” segments, asked a random woman on the street, who appeared to be in her late twenties and articulate (she was a sales rep for Hershey’s chocolate), if she could name a female Supreme Court judge, the woman couldn’t. Yet, when Jay asked her if she could name a female judge on American Idol, she immediately responded, “Jennifer Lopez.”

Too bad she didn’t know that the Supreme Court also had a Puerto Rican celebrity — Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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It’s responses like this one that has most of us groaning about the quality of education these days. Yet, a new report released today shows that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel of ignorance.

The Nation’s Report Card U.S. History 2010: A National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at Grades 4, 8, and 12 shows that more kids are learning their history.

Eighth graders outperformed other grade levels and it’s due to a major improvement among two groups of students that educators used to have their doubts about — black and Latino children.

…the only progress since 2006 was at grade eight, with significant improvement of Black and Hispanic eighth grade scores over these years. Performance by fourth and twelfth graders remained unchanged compared to 2006.

Maybe an even bigger surprise was that the boys outscored the girls in both 8th and 12th grades for 2010. Fourth grade boys and girls had no significant difference in their test scores.

The assessment covered four core historical themes: democracy, culture, technology and world role. While the good news is that Latino students improved their scores, the results show that a lot more work is needed.

To understand the true progress and lack of progress among students, it’s good to know about the three levels used to classify the scores: Basic, denoting partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work; Proficient, representing solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter; and Advanced, representing superior performance.

For examples, 2010 scores of 4th grade Latinos broke down accordingly: 44 percent scored Below Basic; 49 percent were found to be at the Basic level (up from 43 percent in 2006) and 7 were at the Proficient level. No one scored high enough to be considered Advanced.

In looking at the characteristics of Latino fourth graders who scored below 177, they were found to include:

• 52% were male and 48% were female;
• 87% were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch;
• 49% attended schools in city locations; and
• 64% were identified as English language learners.

The report did find that more Latino high school seniors are signing up to take AP History classes and, in fact, are closing the gap with white students in enrolling in these classes — and there’s an odd reason for it.

The Nation’s Report Card discovered that access to AP History classes varied by ethnic/racial composition of schools. Rather than like it used to be that only schools that were dominantly white offered such courses, it’s now found that those schools — termed “low-minority” because less than 10 percent of the student body is black or Latino — actually had less access to AP History classes in 2009 than “graduates in schools with medium concentrations (10 percent to 49 percent) or high concentrations (50 percent or more) of minority students.”

Ironic that in trying to equalize access to AP classes for all students that there now exists a reverse scenario among schools predominantly white. It isn’t right that these schools have less access to AP classes, just as it wasn’t right for minority-majority schools to be denied the same at one time.

Because in the end, it’s the students who have the most to lose.

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