Latino fourth and eighth-grade students are showing significant improvement in their math scores, according to a new Child Trends Hispanic Institute report released Monday.
"I would give them an A,” said Natalia Pane, author of “Math Scores Add Up for Hispanic Students.” The study found that in the past 10 years, average math scores for Hispanic students rose nine points in grade four and 13 points in grade eight.
By comparing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since 2003, the study was the first of its kind to measure how Hispanic students are performing in math across the nation.
Latino students still lag behind; nationally 26 percent of Latino 4th graders and 21 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math, compared to 54 and 45 percent of non-Latino white students.
Yet the findings are encouraging.
“The scope of the gains are so impressive. They range from roughly one grade level to 2 and even 3 in some cases. They are consistent, steady and give us some optimism for the future,” Pane said in an phone interview with NBC News.
Top performing states in both 4th and 8th grade math score gains include Arizona, Indiana, Hawaii and New Jersey. In 4th grade scores, 21 states have recorded gains over the past ten years; among the more notable are Hawaii, up by 22 points, Rhode Island by 18 and Georgia, Colorado and Indiana by 16 points.
Nearly 30 states saw improvement in the last decade in Latinos' 8th grade scores. These include gains in Arkansas (25 points), Massachusetts (22 points), New Jersey (21 points), and Delaware (19 points).
Aside from states, many large U.S. cities saw significant improvement in Latino students' math scores in the last 10 years. From 2003 to 2013, Boston, Los Angeles and Houston saw gains of two grade levels. As of 2013, Dallas and Miami-Dade were more than two grade levels higher than other districts such as Detroit or Fresno, and Charlotte, Austin, Chicago and Washington, D.C. are among those who have made gains.
"We know that the big city data is some of the most exciting because they also show those consistent steady gains,” Pane said, explaining it is significant because cities tend “to have enormous challenges including much higher rates of poverty than the nation as a whole, and yet they are still seeing these dramatic score increases."
The report did not address the reasons for the improvement in Latino math scores, though researchers said factors could include decreases in recent immigration, an increase in the proportion of more highly-educated Latino families and some school reform efforts.
With Hispanic students accounting for nearly one in four U.S. children entering the nation's schools, the gains in math are an important step in the right direction.
“We are very pleased to see that Hispanic students have been doing much, much better in mathematics, particularly in our urban school systems”, says Michael Casserly, Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “The data are pretty clear that Hispanic students are improving in mathematics at a rate that is faster than other students are. So almost by definition you will see some of these gaps narrowing in a way that you would want to seem them,” he said.
Casserly hastens to add there is still a long way to go before the gap between Latinos and their counterparts is fully closed, but that at least “we are on the right track.”