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Latinos as a whole have made great strides in educational attainment in the last decade. High school dropout rates are at an all-time low and graduation rates are at all-time highs. More and more Latinos are enrolling in two- and four-year universities and, while they still lag behind their white peers, more are obtaining degrees.
Despite these significant gains, more work still needs to be done to close the achievement gap. A 2016 report from the Child Trends Hispanic Institute, nearly 25% of all Latino students are not proficient in reading and in some states, many are more than three grades behind their peers.
In the heavily Latino-populated state of California (38.39% Latino population), new science standards for K-12 students have been aimed at “sparking” students interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses and boost test scores for Latinos and African Americans.
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“I think there’s a great deal of optimism that the new standards will make a dent in the achievement gap,” said Kathy DiRanna, K-12 Alliance statewide director for WestEd. “That’s because it’s hands-on, helps build language skills, [and] includes reading and writing. This is really a way to get science to all kids.”
The new standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), offer guidelines for teachers on how to reach students who are English language learners, come from economically disadvantaged homes, are racial or ethnic minorities, or who are otherwise from demographic groups “underrepresented in the science fields.”
According to a 21-page appendix in the report: “… student demographics across the nation are changing rapidly, as teachers have seen the steady increase of student diversity in the classrooms. Yet, achievement gaps in science and other key academic indicators among demographic subgroups have persisted.”
The new standards emphasize broad scientific concepts as well as the connections between scientific disciplines, including life science and physical science. Also included are “core ideas,” such as energy, climate, and space systems. The new standards are going to be taught at all grade levels, including in elementary schools.
Latino and African American students have generally not fared as well as white and Asian students in math and science; both currently make up only a small percentage of those working in careers in STEM fields.
According to the National Science Foundation, Latinos make up only 6% of the STEM workforce although they represent 17% of the U.S. population overall.
The new standards and its appendix which focuses on equity suggests that teachers will be able to create a “respectful but less formal atmosphere” in their classrooms. This includes listening to students’ experiences outside the classroom as they relate to science and making the lessons relevant to students’ daily lives.
“It is difficult to have a nation grow if it does not take advantage of all of its resources, which includes our future scientists,” said Alejandro Gallard, an education professor at Georgia Southern University who has extensively studied achieving equity in science education. “Our inequity structures have put our nation at risk.”
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