Test results that show Puerto Rican students lagging far behind children on the U.S. mainland ignited debate Wednesday over the fairness of questions translated from English for a Spanish-speaking island with a distinct heritage and culture.
Puerto Rico’s education department says the scores do not reflect its students’ abilities and wants an exemption from the National Assessment Educational Progress math exams, which are required as a condition of federal school funding.
“This is a translation of the exam in the United States, and it doesn’t match,” said Jose Rivera Melendez, an assistant education secretary. “There is a serious disconnect.”
U.S. education officials said the Spanish translation of the exam was vetted by Puerto Rican educators and linguists chosen by the local government. A Puerto Rican glossary was developed to ensure word problems on the math exam were accessible to island students.
The Spanish-speaking U.S. territory is exempt from the language exam.
Fourth- and eighth-grade students in Puerto Rico scored, on average, less than half as many correct answers as their peers on the U.S. mainland in the 2007 version of the exam, which is held every two years.
Island students skipped many of the questions on previous exams and were given 70 minutes this time to help them finish the test, compared with 50 minutes for students in the U.S., Carr said.
“In social and, mainly, educational terms, Puerto Rico is a different country, and the complexities of that different way of being in the world should be recognized,” Aragunde wrote in a letter last month to Carr.
The letter brought a quick rebuke from the island’s governor-elect, Luis Fortuno, a conservative whose party wants Puerto Rico to become the 51st U.S. state.