States Help Schools Hide Minority Scores

Frank Bass, Nicole Ziegler Dizon and Ben Feller, AP, April 17, 2006

States are helping public schools escape potential penalties by skirting the No Child Left Behind law’s requirement that students of all races must show annual academic progress.

With the federal government’s permission, schools 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.

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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 reported because there aren’t enough to provide meaningful information.

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 exemptions 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.

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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.

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