December 11, 2013
By Antone Clark
Hispanic students in Utah schools showed big gains on a national eighth-grade reading exam, leaving some state officials unable to explain why.
Scores for eighth-grade Hispanic students increased from 247 to 256 on the National Assessment of Educational Process (NAEP) tests from early 2013, closing the gap with white students in the process. Overall Utah scores for the eighth-grade reading exam rose from 267 to 270.
Dr. Martell Menlove, superintendent of Utah public schools, could not pinpoint a single reason to explain the bump when discussing the issue earlier this week with state lawmakers.
"I can't point to anything particular but we're thrilled the gap is closing," Menlove said.
He speculated efforts in some districts to help teachers better work with diverse students could be one of the factors. He also said there has been a concerted effort to make sure a larger number of teachers are trained in English as a Second Language (ESL).
The state educator cautioned about reading too much of a trend in the test results, since the sampling was so small. He said test results were taken from only 106 schools. He said samplings for Utah-based exams are far more comprehensive.
Lawmakers on a state education task force were still impressed.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the scores show a good direction. He pointed out that each ESL student is given 45 minutes to an hour of individual English instruction on a regular basis, which may help explain some of the gains.
Menlove noted most of the ESL emphasis is happening at the lower grades in Utah schools.
"There's no question that program has an impact on the progress of our English language learners," he said.
Stephenson also thinks targeted professional development among Beehive State schools is a reason for the raised test scores for both Hispanics and white students.
A one-page report on the test scores prepared by the Utah State Office of Education pointed to professional development, ESL endorsements for educators and Utah Core Standards, as reasons for the raised test scores.
While reading test scores are up for Hispanic eighth graders, NAEP test scores for fourth graders are not showing the same gains, Menlove told lawmakers.
The NAEP is a test administered to assess how national standards determined by the federal government are being addressed in the classroom.