District aims to aid Latino kids

GLENDALE — The average academic achievement levels of Latino students remain significantly below their peers in other ethnic subgroups in the Glendale Unified School District, prompting administrators to post an “urgency statement” to keep the topic at the forefront of educators’ minds.

Copies of the statement — which starting this year have been posted at the district’s administrative offices and campuses — note that even though the Glendale Unified School District has reached high academic benchmarks, a significant number of its Latino students have not reached proficiency on state tests in English Language Arts and math. According to the urgency statement, 57.2% of the school district’s Latino students are not proficient in English Language Arts, and 52.7% of the district’s Latino students are not proficient in math, as measured by performance on the California Standards Tests and the California High School Exit Exam.

The district aims to increase the proficiency of all its students by 2% this year, and increase the proficiency among Latino students by 5% this year, according to the statement.

The urgency statement resulted from the notion that organizations must continually target areas in need of improvement or risk complacency, Supt. Michael Escalante said.

“It doesn’t take much courage to stand up and . . .  tout all of our successes,” Escalante said, adding, “You have to commit to something to improve.”

Closing the achievement gap involves erasing the disparities in achievement that exist between students of different socioeconomic and ethnic groups. The issue has become a driving force of education policy in recent years. The No Child Left Behind Act seeks to eliminate the gap by bringing all students to grade-level proficiency by 2014. Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, named closing the gap his top priority.

While achievement levels on state tests have generally risen across the board in the Glendale Unified School District over the past few years, achievement gaps between certain subgroups of students — like Latino students and white students — have persisted, said Lila Bronson, the district’s director of instructional technology, assessment and evaluation.

“Everybody’s sort of making a comparable rate of growth, but we’re not really closing the achievement gap,” Bronson said.

In order to close the gap, the school district will have to help Latino students improve, Bronson said.

“We really want to make sure that we’re getting those students who are the lowest-achieving students at each of our school sites,” she said.

How exactly to bring students who aren’t doing work at grade level up to speed is will be based on the specific needs of particular students, said Dick Sheehan, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

But knowing that certain groups of students have, on average, more academic catching up to do can help teachers use targeted interventions to assist those students while they’re teaching, Sheehan said.

“The district is, just through the urgency statement, bringing to light this information that we do have an issue,” Sheehan said.

Janice Hanada, the principal of Cerritos Elementary School, which is 71% Latino, said that in working to close the achievement gap, it is important to focus on the individual achievement of every child.

“We are not trying to make giant leaps and bounds in this process,” Hanada said. “We are trying to make slow and steady growth . . . and we are.”

 ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at angela.hokanson@latimes.com.

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