VALE – Latino students in Malheur County are falling behind their white peers, according to the state’s test score data.

The gap is more pronounced in some schools than in others.

In Nyssa, only 20% of Latino test takers were considered proficient in math, according to data from the 2018-2019 school year. The passing rate for white students was 48%.

Nyssa also had the largest gap in English language arts scores. It’s the only district in the county where the Latino scores were below the state average of 37.2%. About a third of Latino test takers – 33.5% – passed the exam; the rate was 62.9% for white students.

Of the 409 Latino students tested in English language arts in Nyssa, 133 were considered proficient, according to the data. In math, 412 students were tested and 79 passed the exam.

Darren Johnson, Nyssa school superintendent, said the district is taking steps to address these gaps.

“We have hired a district math coach to teach teachers how to instruct all students, especially if language is a barrier,” Johnson wrote in an email.

He said the district also has a Parent Advisory Committee to help them understand the community’s needs.

“We hold an evening math tutorial three times a week for all students needing extra math help, and we have recently hired, and continue to seek to hire more minority teachers so that students see people like them in successful academic roles,” Johnson added.

The Nyssa school district is majority Latino. According to data from the 2018-2019 school year, Latinos made up 66% of the student body.

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In Ontario, Latino test takers lagged nearly 15 points behind white students in English, and roughly 17 points in math.

There were 811 Latino students in the district tested in math; 196 were considered proficient. In English, the district tested 813 Latino students with 324 of them considered proficient.

Nicole Albisu, Ontario school superintendent, said eliminating such gaps is a complex process that requires long-term interventions and resources.

Albisu said Malheur County schools face more challenges than most other counties due to the area’s unique demographics and rural designation. 

“Not only are the majority of our students growing up in poverty, they are often exposed to violence, emotional trauma, homelessness or housing instability, and mobility,” Albisu wrote in an email.

“These kinds of burdens can have profound effects on the brain development and academic progress for students,” she added.

At Four Rivers Community School, Latino students make up a clear majority. The charter school’s student body was 83% Latino last school year. But 43.2% of Latino test takers passed the English language arts test compared to 65.5% of their white peers. In math, 32.4% of Latino test takers were considered proficient, compared to 48.3% for their white classmates.

Latino students in Vale passed math at about half the rate that their white classmates did and they lagged nearly 20 points behind in English language arts. Of the 107 Latino students tested in Vale, 47 were considered proficient in English language arts and 22 in math. 

“Opportunity gaps are concerning because they inform us that our children do not get a fair chance to make it in our communities and in our schools,” said Peter Rudy, spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Education.

Gaps are not just bad for individual students, they’re also bad for the economy.

A 2015 study published by ECONorthwest concluded that if the achievement gap had been eliminated in the early 2000s, Oregon’s economy would have been $1.9 billion higher in 2013.

Last year, Oregon passed the Student Success Act. The bill will inject $1 billion per year into Oregon schools. The funds are meant in part to address the achievement gap among students.

In March, school districts have to submit applications explaining how they will use the grant money.

Albisu said Ontario will work closely with the Malheur Education Service District to increase opportunities for early childhood education.

“Additionally, we hope to increase access to educational opportunities such as recruiting a diverse workforce, increase access to college credits, expand career and technical education, provide rigorous and enriching course work, extend learning opportunities, address behavioral health needs, support social emotional learning, and ensure that we have safe learning environments,” Albisu wrote.

At Four Rivers, Chelle Robinson said the school’s application would highlight several themes, including the addition of a full-time bilingual counselor, a Spanish literacy specialist and additional STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and math – programming. The school is seeking more input from parents.

“There is a lot of research results that have shown growth in academic achievement when students participate in STEAM activities,” Robinson wrote in an email.

In Nyssa, Johnson said surveys of parents, students, staff and community members have pointed to several suggestions, including a school nurse and permanent full-time mental health counselors at all three district schools.

Other recommendations included additional pre-school slots and more after-school and summer school opportunities.

Johnson said educator surveys suggested adding teachers and instructional assistants to help decrease class sizes and “focus specifically on academic growth of Latino students.”

“More personalized attention during the day, along with added educational opportunities after school and in the summer will be a focus for our Latino student population,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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