Tuesday, April 18, 2006

States are helping public schools to evade the No Child Left Behind law's requirement that students of all races must show annual academic progress

Associated Press:

With the federal government's permission, schools deliberately aren't counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students when they report progress by racial groups, an Associated Press computer analysis found.

Minorities -- who historically haven't fared as well as whites in testing -- make up the vast majority of students whose scores are being excluded, AP found. And the numbers have been rising.

"I can't believe that my child is going through testing just like the person sitting next to him or her and she's not being counted," said Angela Smith, a single mother. Her daughter, Shunta' Winston, was among two dozen black students whose test scores weren't counted to judge her suburban Kansas City, Mo., high school's performance by race.

Under the law championed by President Bush, all public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, although only children above second grade are required to be tested.

Schools receiving federal poverty aid also must demonstrate annually that students in all racial categories are progressing or risk penalties that include extending the school year, changing curriculum or firing administrators and teachers.

The U.S. Education Department said it didn't know the breadth of schools' undercounting until seeing AP's findings.

"Is it too many? You bet," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in an interview. "Are there things we need to do to look at that, batten down the hatches, make sure those kids are part of the system? You bet."

Students whose tests aren't being counted in required categories include Hispanics in California who don't speak English well, blacks in the Chicago suburbs, American Indians in the Northwest and special education students in Virginia, AP found.

Bush's home state of Texas -- once cited as a model for the federal law -- excludes scores for two entire groups. No test scores from Texas' 65,000 Asian students or from several thousand American Indian students are broken out by race. The same is true in Arkansas.

One consequence is that educators are creating a false picture of academic progress.

"The states aren't hiding the fact that they're gaming the system," said Dianne Piche, executive director of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, a group that supports No Child Left Behind. "When you do the math ... you see that far from this law being too burdensome and too onerous, there are all sorts of loopholes."

The law signed by Bush in 2002 requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math. No scores can be excluded from the overall measure.

But the schools also must report scores by categories, such as race, poverty, migrant status, English proficiency and special education. Failure in any category means the whole school fails.

States are helping schools get around that second requirement by using a loophole in the law that allows them to ignore scores of racial groups that are too small to be statistically significant.

Suppose, for example, that a school has 2,000 white students and nine Hispanics. In nearly every state, the Hispanic scores wouldn't be counted because there aren't enough to provide meaningful information and because officials want to protect students' privacy.

State educators decide when a group is too small to count. And they've been asking the government for exemptions to exclude larger numbers of students in racial categories. Nearly two dozen states have successfully petitioned the government for such changes in the past two years. As a result, schools can now ignore racial breakdowns even when they have 30, 40 or even 50 students of a given race in the testing population.

Students must be tested annually in grades 3 through 8 and at least once in high school, usually in 10th grade. This is the first school year that students in all those grades must be tested, though schools have been reporting scores by race for the tests they have been administering since the law was approved.

To calculate a nationwide estimate, AP analyzed the 2003-04 enrollment figures the government collected -- the latest on record -- and applied the current racial category exemptions the states use.

Overall, AP found that about 1.9 million students -- or about 1 in every 14 test scores -- aren't being counted under the law's racial categories. Minorities are seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as whites, the analysis showed.

Less than 2 percent of white children's scores aren't being counted as a separate category. In contrast, Hispanics and blacks have roughly 10 percent of their scores excluded. More than one-third of Asian scores and nearly half of American Indian scores aren't broken out, AP found.

Ms. Smith's family in Missouri demonstrates how the exemptions work. Shunta' and other black children in tested grades at Oak Park High School, which is in a mostly white suburban Kansas City neighborhood, weren't counted as a group because Missouri schools have federal permission not to break out scores for any ethnic group with fewer than 30 students in the required testing population.

"Why don't they feel like she's important enough to rearrange things to make it count?" her mother asked.

In all, the tests of more than 24,000 mostly minority children in Missouri aren't being counted as groups, AP's review found. Other states have much higher numbers. California, for instance, isn't counting the scores of more than 400,000 children. In Texas, the total is about 257,000.

Tennessee's No Child Left Behind scores leave some minorities uncounted

976 students left out of No Child Left Behind

AP Study: 1 in 14 Ark. scores uncounted under federal loophole

Thousands Of Children's Scores Left Behind

No Child reports lack some racial numbers

Some students may be left behind

Test scores not counted

Many Schools Not Reporting Racial Subgroup Scores

Many minority test scores not counted in Washington

Memphis City School Board focuses on No Child Left Behind scores

Minority students more likely to be left behind in Nevada testing

North Carolina officials take advantage of No Child loophole

'Achievement gap' masked in Chicago suburb

African-American children's test scores were not reported


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