The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test scores for the 2022-2023 school year were released recently, and they revealed a stark disparity between students who took the test in English and those who took it in Spanish. The test scores showed that Spanish test takers across the three largest school districts in El Paso, Texas, had much higher failure rates than their English counterparts in subjects such as science, reading and math. The gap was especially pronounced in the fifth grade, where Spanish test takers failed at a rate of more than 60% in science, compared to 34% for English test takers.
The STAAR test is a standardized test that measures the academic achievement of students in grades 3-12 in Texas. The test is administered in both English and Spanish, and students can choose which language they prefer to take the test in. The test covers four core subjects: reading, writing, math and science. The test scores are used to evaluate the performance of students, teachers and schools, and to identify areas of improvement.
Reasons for the low scores of Spanish test takers
The low scores of Spanish test takers have raised concerns among educators and parents about the quality and effectiveness of the bilingual education programs in El Paso schools. Bilingual education is a form of instruction that aims to develop proficiency in two languages for students who are not native speakers of English. Bilingual education programs vary in their design and implementation, but they generally involve teaching some subjects in English and some in Spanish, or using both languages interchangeably.
According to Veronica Reyes, the Executive Director of Specialized Learning Services for El Paso Independent School District (EPISD), one of the reasons for the low scores of Spanish test takers is that they are learning two languages at the same time, which poses a greater challenge than learning one language. She said that the goal of the dual language program, which is a type of bilingual education program that promotes bilingualism and biliteracy for all students, is to have students perform or outperform monolingual students by the end of the fifth grade. However, she admitted that this has not been the case for many students.
Another reason for the low scores of Spanish test takers is the lack of resources and qualified teachers for bilingual education. Reyes said that there are challenges in finding and retaining teachers who are bilingual certified and who can teach effectively in both languages. She also said that there are issues with following the state’s bilingual curriculum with fidelity and consistency across schools and classrooms.
Joanne Anguiano, the Director of Bilingual Education for Socorro Independent School District (SISD), another large school district in El Paso, attributed the low scores of Spanish test takers to a different factor. She said that many of the students who take the test in Spanish are newcomers who have been in the country for less than two years, and who have not yet developed enough English proficiency to take the test in English. She said that these students need more time and support to adjust to the new language and culture.
Reactions and responses from stakeholders
The low scores of Spanish test takers have sparked reactions and responses from various stakeholders, including parents, students, teachers and administrators. Some parents expressed frustration and worry about their children’s academic progress and future opportunities. Sandra Cisneros, an aunt of a fifth-grader who took the test in Spanish, said that her nephew has been struggling with learning English since he moved to El Paso from Mexico last year. She said that she and her family try to help him with his homework, but it is hard for them to understand it as well.
Some students expressed confidence and optimism about their learning and performance. Maria Hernandez, a fifth-grader who took the test in English, said that she likes learning both languages because it helps her communicate with different people and cultures. She said that she studies hard every day and tries to do her best on the tests.
Some teachers expressed dedication and commitment to improving their instruction and outcomes for their students. Luisa Rodriguez, a fifth-grade teacher who teaches both English and Spanish at Ramona STEM Academy, a new school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math education, said that she uses various strategies and resources to engage her students and make them feel comfortable in both languages. She said that she also collaborates with other teachers and attends professional development sessions to enhance her skills and knowledge.
Some administrators expressed determination and action to address the issue and provide solutions. Xavier De La Torre, the Superintendent of Ysleta Independent School District (YISD), another large school district in El Paso, said that he has ordered a comprehensive review of the bilingual education programs in his district to identify strengths and weaknesses. He said that he will also allocate more funds and support for hiring and training bilingual teachers, as well as providing more materials and technology for bilingual instruction.
Implications and recommendations for bilingual education
The low scores of Spanish test takers have implications and recommendations for bilingual education in El Paso and beyond. Bilingual education is a complex and controversial topic that involves multiple factors and stakeholders, such as language, culture, identity, policy, pedagogy, assessment and accountability. Bilingual education has been shown to have many benefits for students, such as cognitive, academic, social and economic advantages. However, bilingual education also faces many challenges and barriers, such as political, ideological, institutional and practical obstacles.
Therefore, it is important to have a clear vision and purpose for bilingual education, as well as a coherent and consistent framework and implementation for bilingual instruction. It is also important to have a fair and valid assessment and evaluation system for bilingual students, teachers and schools, that takes into account their linguistic and cultural diversity and needs. Moreover, it is important to have a collaborative and supportive environment for bilingual education, that involves the participation and contribution of all stakeholders, such as parents, students, teachers, administrators, policymakers and researchers.
Bilingual education is a valuable and viable option for educating students in a multilingual and multicultural society. However, bilingual education requires more than just teaching two languages. It requires a commitment to excellence and equity for all students.