Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size




January 12, 2011

Canada’s first education study of Spanish-speaking high school students’ experience to help Toronto District School Board better engage and help students stay in school

Para una versión en español de este Comunicado de Prensa, oprima aquí

TORONTO, ON – A report released by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) provides students’ perspective to better understand why Spanish-speaking students choose to leave or stay in Toronto schools.

Developed and implemented in collaboration between OISE’s Centre for Urban Schooling and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), this study is the first of its kind in Canada.

In April 2008, the TDSB reported that achievement test scores for Spanish-speaking students were consistently among the lowest for achievement and standardized literacy tests. At that time, they also reported that roughly 40% of these students do not finish high school.

“Developing strategies for addressing these challenges is a major challenge, since there is very little research about the experiences of Latino/a students in the context of either Toronto schools in particular or Canadian schools more generally,” says lead researcher and OISE Professor Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández.

“While much more research is needed, this report offers some initial insights about the schooling experiences and engagement processes of Spanish-speaking students in Toronto schools.”

The study included 60 students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds with varying levels of academic achievement in grades nine to 12 from six high schools across Toronto. The students participated in focus groups, individual interviews, and a survey. All students identified with and felt a personal connection with a range of countries throughout Latin America.

The following key factors emerged from the student participants as barriers for Spanish-speaking students:

1. While learning English is seen as important, many barriers to learning English were identified, such as proper placement and lack of proper level course availability.
2. Students are keenly aware that their success later in life is tied to their success in school. However, many students are forced to enter the work force prior to graduation in order to support their families, jeopardizing their ability to succeed in school and their ability to pursue a better professional future.
3. Students believe that their relationships with teachers and peers are negatively affected by racism and stereotypes.
4. Students identified positive relationships and experiences with teachers as an important starting point for improved behaviour and interactions in the classroom.

“This study gives us further insights into the issues affecting the achievement of Spanish-speaking students,” says TDSB Executive Officer for Student and Community Equity, Lloyd McKell. “We will use this research in our plans to close the achievement gap for Spanish-speaking students in our schools”

The report contains a number of ideas and suggestions to help the TDSB overcome the barriers identified in the report. Ideas from student participants included:

• Better support for new immigrant families by providing a Spanish-speaking “student guide” to orient newcomers to the school system.
• Fund a peer-to-peer support program, which would help to support newcomers culturally, linguistically, and scholastically.
• Encourage and provide part-time job opportunities that do not interfere with school success, such as library jobs and other school-site work.
• Adding courses in Latin American history and culture to the curriculum to help debunk stereotypes and empower Latino/a students through their own history.
• Create opportunities for students to recognize the teachers with whom they have positive and encouraging relationships.
• Encourage teachers to utilize more student-centred and other critical approaches as part of their teaching.

The TDSB will identify specific actions in the report that can be incorporated into strategies to close the achievement gap for Spanish-speaking students. The TDSB will also use this report to promote discussions with members of the Spanish-speaking community to create community engagement and partnerships to support students.

The full report, entitled “Proyecto Latino Year 1 –– Exploratory Research”

Media Contacts

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto:
Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández, Lead Researcher of Proyecto Latino
OISE, Centre for Urban Schooling

Janice Spencer, Senior Communications Officer, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Toronto District School Board:
Jim Spyropoulos, Coordinating Superintendent. Inclusive Schools, Student, Parent and Community
416 396 7625

Lloyd McKell, Senior Advisor to the Director

Genna Schnurbach, Communications Coordinator, Communications and Public Affairs