The school performance of Hispanic students: A generational approach




Kayaardi-Hinojosa, Nihan

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While it has long been recognized that Hispanic students face sizeable challenges in the classroom, the matter of whether their academic performance varies by immigration generation and by Hispanic sub-group remains understudied. Taking the view that generational status may bear heavily on the classroom success of Hispanic students and that members of different Hispanic sub-groups engage the U.S. educational system differently, this study examines school achievement among three generations of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Hispanics.

This study hypothesizes that different generations of Hispanic students within specific ethnic groups will exhibit identifiable differences in classroom performance. The cultural ecological model, classical assimilation model, segmented assimilation model, and immigrant aspiration model are utilized to help explain educational achievement among minority groups. Taking these theories into account, I predicted that second generation Hispanic students will have an advantage over their first and third generation counterparts. I also hypothesized that Mexicans and Puerto Ricans would be the most likely to follow a nonlinear pattern of generational achievement in education, in contrast to Cubans who would experience linear upward mobility.

This study focuses on different measures of school achievement captured by the database, NELS 1988. This database permits the examination of how variables like generation, student, parent, family, and school characteristics affect the academic performance of Hispanic eighth grade students in U.S. schools. The NELS 1988 sample of 3,154 respondents affords a very useful cross-section of Hispanic students and the factors that shape their school success. The study uses ordinary least squares regression because it is the most appropriate procedure to test the relationships between several predictors and an interval-ratio dependent variable.

Among the chief findings is that, by and large, generation effects no significant differences in school performance as measured by GPA and standardized subject test scores. This applies either before or after holding student, parental, familial, and school characteristics constant for Hispanic students as a whole and among major Hispanic subgroups. This lack of significant generational differences in Hispanic school performance may have to do with the enormous diversity of the Hispanic sub-groups in question, a relatively low level of class background among Hispanic immigrants, and the disproportionately small sample sizes of some Hispanic sub-groups.

This study, however, finds that father's educational level and student variables such as positive attitudes toward high school graduation, higher educational expectations, and homework hours have consistently significant effects upon school performance, while school and family variables do not seem to impact school performance.

These findings may alert us to the subject competence status of Hispanic students as they approach high school and remind us of the urgency of better preparing students for the 21st century workforce. In addition, they may draw attention to the known effects of determinants like parental education and attitudes toward graduation that can be explored further.



Education, Social sciences, Achievement, Generational change, Hispanic, Multicultural education, Ethnic studies, Hispanic American studies, Generational differences, Hispanic students