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Hispanics' Achievement Is Declining As Population Grows, La Raza Warns

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By Peter Schmidt

Washington--Educational attainment among Hispanics is declining at the same time that their share of the school-aged population is growing, a prominent Hispanic advocacy group warns in a new report.

If current trends continue, the study by the National Council of La Raza predicts, the proportion of Hispanic schoolchildren will rise from 10.5 percent today to almost one-third by the year 2000, and a larger share of Hispanic students will become dropouts, score low on tests, and have low academic expectations.

Raul Yzaguirre, the president of La Raza, called the educational situation of Hispanic youth "unconscionable" as he released the report last month at the organization's annual conference, which focused on education. The study draws heavily on the Education Department's National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 and other federal research.

"Not only are we the most undereducated minority in this country, but the gap between the educational standards of Hispanics and the educational attainment of the rest of the nation is increasing rather than decreasing," Mr. Yzaguirre said.

He said the trend is evident among longtime Hispanic-Americans as well as newly arrived immigrants, who account for about half of the Hispanic population's growth.

Mr. Yzaguirre said Hispanic students will suffer if federal and state efforts to raise academic standards fail to recognize that such students may need special services, such as bilingual education, to reach higher goals. The study noted that the proportion of Hispanics receiving bilingual education has declined in recent years.

Study's Findings

According to the report, 43 percent of Hispanics age 19 and over do not have high-school diplomas or are not enrolled in high school. It also found that Hispanic children aged 13 and younger are far more likely to have been retained in grade than either whites or blacks, and that in several states suspension rates for Hispanics have increased rapidly while rates for whites have declined.

The report noted that the federal study found that three out of four Hispanic 8th graders cannot pass a test of simple mathematical operations that use decimals or fractions.

Hispanic 8th graders have less definite plans for high school and show less tendency to pursue academic programs than any other ethnic groups except American Indians, the study found.

The La Raza report noted that educational achievement among Hispanics varied according to their country of origin. But even Cuban-Americans, who led the other Hispanic groups, still lagged behind their white counterparts and showed signs of slipping further behind.

The report predicted that Hispanic public-school enrollment will increase by 2.4 million between 1985 and 2000--compared with a projected increase of 1.7 million for blacks and 66,000 for whites.

About one in 12 Americans--or 20.1 million--is of Hispanic origin, according to the study, with more than 55 percent residing in California and Texas.

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