UA College of Ed study says MAS boosted student achievement


by David Safier

Supporters of the Mexican American Studies program regularly cite evidence that student achievement and graduation rates rose for students who participated in the  MAS program. I've pretty much stayed clear of that assertion since I'm not much of a fan of education studies — they're rarely conclusive for a number of reasons having to do with the nature of education — and because the sample size is small enough to make any results questionable. Having said that, there are significant indications the MAS program helped students academically and no indications it did any academic harm.

Now there's a formal study published by the UA College of Education that concludes students in the MAS program benefitted academically. The study was prepared by three people: Nolan Cabrera (PhD, Assistant Prof of Higher Education) who is a longtime supporter of the MAS program; Jeffrey Millem (PhD, Professor of Higher Education); and Ronald Marx (PhD, Dean, Professor of Educational Psychology). Carbrera's name was on the earlier work, which made many question its accuracy, given his advocacy for the program. Putting two more names on the study gives it more credibility.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about statistical studies to evaluate this one, so I won't try. However, if anyone has the statistical sophistication, the study is quite detailed, laying its cards on the table so others can see how it arrived at the results.

Here are some results.

Among students who did not pass the AIMS test originally, those in the MAS program were significantly more likely to pass than similar TUSD students — anywhere from 64% more likely in 2010 to 118% more likely in 2008. The study breaks the passage rate down into Reading, Writing and Math scores.

The study indicated MAS students were more likely to graduate than similar TUSD students — anywhere from 51% more likely in 2009 to 108% more likely in 2008.

There were no clear trends related to the likelihood of students attending college. The study said this is harder to measure since it isn't based on hard numbers like AIMS scores and graduation rates.

As I said earlier, I don't know if the study is anywhere near conclusive, but the results are impressive enough that they should be taken seriously. For me, the "softer" evidence of the value of the MAS program is strong enough to convince me it should be part of the TUSD curriculum.