Latino/a Literature: A Resource For Standardized Testing
By Manuel Hernandez
Latino/a Literature is a resource for young adults and standardized testing in America. Voices of concerns were depicted in a widely televised special on November 30, 2003 on Fox television. The prime time segment dedicated a series on education to vividly document stories of children with problems with standardized testing. America is looking for answers and embarking on a journey of redefining its solutions. A resource for the teaching of literature in the United States of America may be Latino/a literature.
Studies indicate that there is a strong relationship between reading and writing. Two scholars in the area (Noyce and Christie, 1989) state that the mind assimilates information to explain the missing link between skills and reading/writing. Therefore it is up to educators to provide and include additional material and instruction to help students fill in the missing links. Closing the gap on standardized testing means going beyond the classics.
According to the United States Census statistics, there were 35.8 million people of Latino origin living in the United States in the year 2000. Recent 2003 numbers places the largest minority near the 40 million mark (13 percent of the U.S.A. population). Latino writers that migrated to the United States before, during and immediately after World War II, and those who were born and grew up in the United States have come out of the melting pot and have become a vital voice in American letters today. They have developed a powerful and dynamic literary voice and are being anthologized like never before. Even The Anthology of American Literature (Prentice-Hall, 1997), one of America’s most influential collection of classical writings, includes the literary works of the highly awarded writers, Tomás Rivera and Sandra Cisneros, alongside Hemingway, Updike and Longfellow.
Americans are demanding a quality education for all children. One of the four principles of the Government’s No Child Left Behind Law is an emphasis on teaching methods that have worked in the past. In a workshop that I performed for the New York City High Schools/English Language Learners Office in 2000 and 2001, English and English as a Second Language high school teachers shared testimonies (Integrating Latino/a Literature in The English Classroom, Part V, television production for the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network) on how Latino/a Literature had provided young adults with motivation and preparation for the Regents exams. Mr. Joseph Lizardi ,ESL-HS teacher from Roosevelt High School in The Bronx, New York, said that he had used the literary works of Latino/a writers to prepare and tutor ESL kids and had noticed positive results in the Regents exams.
In the English classroom, students feel a lack of personal involvement, especially with isolated writing assignments. Latino/a Literature is filled with every day and common events and establishes a bridge between reading and writing which connects students to ideas and themes. It is like seeing themselves in a mirror and assessing what, where, how and why they are who they are while developing reading and writing skills necessary to enter and succeed in high school and higher education. How can students interact with their reading-writing when their choices of literature are far away from their every day reality?
Young adults today are open to options. Media moguls and entertainment industries have captivated their interest because they have offered them options. Education must stay abreast with the challenges that our children face today. It is our responsibility as teachers, administrators, parents and educational advocates to provide them with innovations in their educational experience. According to statistics by the Department of Education, only 17 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders read at their grade level. Imagine what may happen to the reading skills of these kids once they reach high school by the end of the decade, if there academic demands are not met wisely. Why not provide them with an opportunity to make literature their own? If No Child Left Behind reiterates that all children are provided with quality instruction that will give them the opportunity to reach their greatest academic potential, and it provides the resources states and school districts need to fulfill this national priority, then provide them with options. Latino/a literature in the English classroom is a resource that should not be taken for granted and may redefine the literary analysis of contemporary American letters.
Like the previously mentioned Editorial states, "Disappointing test results have
many causes", but one of them are the choices that administrators and teachers make for their children. Additional research in the study of young adult literature demonstrates that language is learned through use rather than through practice exercises. Second, children need to be given opportunities to make language their own by making connections with their lives and background information. Finally, A well-designed reading/writing program should provide opportunites for diverse daily reading and various types of writing. The classics are and will always be part of the American curriculum, but Latino/a literature provides our children with a refreshening alternative and may supplement a well-balanced reading-writing program and help create interest in reading and writing which will in return augment scores in the "nations report card", the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Hernandez contributes articles to puertoricosun.com on education issues.