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Asian-Americans Said Top Achievers, But Strengths Vary Among

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Subgroups By Peter Schmidt

Washington--Asian-American and Pacific Islander students as a whole achieve at higher levels academically and have higher educational aspirations than all other ethnic groups, according to a recent analysis of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988.

When the different Asian subgroups are examined separately, however, the results vary widely.

For instance, Koreans, South Asians, and West Asians scored well above both the national average and white students in reading and math, as well as in assessments of their educational aspirations.

On the other hand, Southeast Asians fared worse than white students over all, and Pacific Islanders were found to be the neediest among all racial and ethnic groups studied, the analysis of "nels:88" data found.

Ralph M. Lee, a mathematical statistician at the National Center for Education Statistics, and Samuel S. Peng, a senior researcher at the Center for Research in Human Development and Education at Temple University, presented their analysis here last month at the annual convention of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

Examining the nels:88 results for the 1,500 Asian-American students sampled as part of the study of 24,500 8th graders in 1,035 schools, Mr. Peng and Mr. Lee also found that:

Asian-American students as a whole scored higher than other racial and ethnic minorities in reading and mathematics and higher than white students in math.

Pacific Islanders recorded the lowest reading and composite achievement scores, as well as the lowest educational aspirations. Black students were the only racial or ethnic group to score lower in math.

All Asian-Americans, with the exception of Pacific Islanders, had above-average educational expectations for their children, and all Asian-Americans, except for Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asians, were found to have more learning materials in their homes than other racial and ethnic minorities.

Despite their interest in education, Asian parents in general were less active in parent-teacher organizations and appeared less communicative with their children.

The socioeconomic status of the families of Asian and Pacific Islander children varied widely.

More than 75 percent of South Asian, Korean, and Japanese students came from families in the upper half of the socioeconomic scale, while 72 percent of Southeast Asians and 57 percent of Pacific Islanders came from the lower half.

Over all, about 7 percent of Asian students were classified as limited-English-proficient, compared with 9 percent of both Hispanics and Native Americans.

The likelihood of English proficiency differed significantly by subgroup, however, with 17 percent of Southeast Asians and no Middle Easterners classified as limited-English-proficient. The l.e.p. classification was given to 11 percent of Chinese, 8 percent of Japanese, 6 percent of both Filipinos and West Asians, 5 percent of Pacific Islanders, and 4 percent of both Koreans and South Asians.

Need for Programs Cited

Mr. Lee and Mr. Peng said the levels of limited English proficiency reported by nels:88 may have been artificially low because Asians were heavily represented among the students excluded from the study because of severe language problems.

The two researchers said the nels:88 results illustrate the need for three basic types of educational strategies: bilingual-education and English-as-a-second-language programs to improve the English-language proficiency of students and parents; programs to boost the achievement and educational-aspiration levels of Pacific Islanders; and programs to improve communication between Asian parents and children to promote parent involvement in the educational process.

Several Asian-American activists said in interviews that Asian children often experience difficulty in an area not measured by nels:88--their mental health.

Also, they said, school systems need to offer more counseling for children who are having difficulty coping with a cultural transition or who had traumatic experiences before fleeing their homelands.

John B. Tsu, the U.S. Education Department's representative for Region 9, which includes California, Hawaii, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, attributed the low scores of Pacific Islanders in part to the fact that "teachers of high quality from the mainland are reluctant to go to the Pacific territories."

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