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Researchers link student achievement to defunct Mexican-American studies program in Arizona

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TUCSON, Arizona — The dismantled Mexican American studies program at Tucson Unified School District has direct links to higher student achievement, according to a study published in the American Educational Research Journal, a national publication.

The study by University of Arizona researchers found a link between increased graduation rates and standardized-testing results for students who participated in the program from around 2006 to when it was dismantled in April 2012.

The publication of the study comes a month before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the case against an Arizona law prohibiting public schools from offering courses that teach ethnic solidarity, which led to the demise of the program. That hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12 in San Francisco.

The Tucson Unified School District board voted to dismantle the program in April 2012 because funding would be cut off if it continued implementing it. A year later, a federal court upheld the Arizona law that prohibits courses if they promote resentment toward a race or a class of people, are designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of peoples as individuals.

A group of students and teachers sued the state, saying the law was overly broad and violates the right of free speech.

The federal court found only "designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group" to be unconstitutionally vague and upheld the other standards under which Tucson's Mexican-American Studies program was eliminated.

But the program helped students with low performance in their freshman and sophomore years of high school succeed when they participated as juniors and seniors, the study's lead author, Nolan Cabrera, said.

Graduation rates and passing rates for standardized tests grew for students who took Mexican American studies courses, Cabrera said.

"We re-ran the analysis in a number of different ways, but our results continued to be the same. One, there's a consistent significant positive relationship between taking Mexican-American studies and student achievement," Nolan said. "The more Mexican-American classes that the students took, the stronger that relationship became."

Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, a strong opponent of the program, was not available to comment, spokeswoman Sally Stewart said.

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