Latino Students’ Reading Scores Improve, But Few are Proficient

March 27, 2016

Bethesda, Md.—Reading scores for U.S. Latino fourth- and eighth-graders have increased by the equivalent of half a grade level in the past decade, according to a new report from Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute.

Reading achievement in fourth grade is a reasonably good predictor of high school graduation rates. Despite the increase in scores from 2005 to 2015, only 21 percent of Latino fourth-graders reached the “proficient” level in reading in 2015.

This compares to 46 percent of white students, and 35 percent of fourth-graders overall. By state, the 2015 gap in reading scores between white and Latino students at fourth grade ranged from the equivalent of about one grade level (10 points) in Louisiana, to more than three grade levels (33 points) in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Child Trends examined fourth- and eighth-grade Hispanic students’ scores, from 2005 to 2015, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment.

“Seeing that many Latino students struggle in reading is troubling, in part because having good reading skills is so fundamental to understanding what’s being taught in school, and to success in many jobs,” said Manica Ramos, a research scientist at Child Trends and lead author of the study. “Still, we’re encouraged by the improvement in scores over the decade, particularly in a number of states and large urban school districts.”

Today, 1 in 4 U.S. children is Hispanic, and by 2030 the proportion will be 1 in 3. The improvement in reading scores over the past decade was seen for Hispanics belonging to all country-of-origin groups included in the NAEP—Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans and Chicanos, and other Hispanics or Latinos.

Results varied dramatically by location.

More than one third of states saw improvements in Hispanic students’ reading scores at fourth or eighth grades, though data from 2011 to 2015 suggest that progress has slowed in recent years. Average 2015 scores varied, state-to-state, by as much as the equivalent of more than two grade levels.

Notable findings by location

  • Delaware was the only state to have a significant decline in scores (by 6 points, at fourth grade).
  • At fourth grade, several states made gains in recent years—between 2011 and 2015. Top gains were in Indiana and Tennessee (13 and 12 points, respectively). Maryland was the only state to show a statistically significant decline. However, Maryland still ranked among the top half of states in 2015.
  • At eighth grade, only Hawaii, Oklahoma, and California had statistically significant gains between 2011 and 2015 (11, 6, and 3 points, respectively).
  • Latino students in schools run by the Department of Defense Education Activity—generally, children of active-duty military and Department of Defense civilian families—had reading scores higher than those of Latino students in any of the states. Their 2015 fourth-grade scores were 5 points higher than those of students in the highest-scoring state (Florida), and eighth-grade scores were 7 points higher than those of students in the highest-scoring state (Kentucky).
  • Among the urban school districts included in the study, students in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and the District of Columbia were among the top performers. Boston, in particular, saw an improvement among fourth-graders amounting to 1.5 grade levels (14 points) between 2005 and 2015, followed closely by the District of Columbia (13 points), and, at eighth grade, Los Angeles (11 points).

NAEP is the largest continuing, nationally representative assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in various subject areas. NAEP provides the only common metric for academic achievement across time and across states.

This study was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In 2014, Child Trends published a report highlighting the increase in Hispanic students’ math scores over the previous decade.


Child Trends is the nation’s leading nonprofit research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives and prospects of children, youth, and their families. For 37 years, decision-makers have relied on our rigorous research, unbiased analyses, and clear communications to improve public policies and interventions that serve children and families. In June 2014, Child Trends launched the Child Trends Hispanic Institute to add to the knowledge base on the fastest-growing group of children in the country. Child Trends has more than 120 staff in three offices and multiple locations around the country, including our headquarters in Bethesda, Md. Our work is supported by many of the nation’s largest foundations; by federal, state, and local government agencies; and by leading nonprofit organizations.