AP Interview: Education chief to look closely at kids not counted | VailDaily.com

AP Interview: Education chief to look closely at kids not counted

WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says her agency must do more to make sure huge numbers of minority students are not excluded under the No Child Left Behind law. But she rejects any state complaint that the law is hurting school integration.Spellings’ comments came in response to an Associated Press analysis that found nearly 2 million students were not counted when schools reported yearly progress by racial groups.”We ought to do more about that,” Spellings said in an interview Thursday at the conclusion of a four-day AP series that highlighted the excluded scores.She declined to specify exactly how she will address the problem, saying it will come up during the law’s renewal next year and during current federal reviews of state education plans. “I’m going to pay very close attention to it,” she said of the racial exclusions.Spellings said the AP report amounted to a “truth-in-advertising” exercise for state policymakers, parents and federal officials. The 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.Schools are allowed to exclude math and reading scores when a racial group is too small to be statistically significant, and when privacy of students could be jeopardized. But states have also been excluding scores to reduce their chances of being labeled a failing school and facing federal penalties, according to education experts who study the law.The federal government approves the sizes of the racial groups that states set.With her comments, Spellings sought to get ahead of a story that threatens to embarrass the White House and undermine the whole point of the law: ensuring no child is left behind.Some state education leaders say the law may be encouraging segregation in schools that fear the enrollment of minority or poor students will hurt their chances of success.Spellings rejected that. She said states should use the tools they have, such as by making it harder for schools in any of their districts to exclude minority test scores.”There is lots of local control in this law, and that’s as it should be,” Spellings said. “But state policymakers shouldn’t cry to the federal government when they have tools, like sample size, that can really cause attention and focus around all students.”The law aims to ensure every child can read and do math on grade level by 2013-14, putting an unprecedented federal emphasis on the success of poor and minority children.An AP-AOL Learning Services Poll found that only half of teachers were confident that children in their school would meet that goal, although parents were much more optimistic.Spellings said she found the teachers’ views to be troubling.”All I know is if you don’t think you can get to the destination, you probably can’t,” Spellings said. “It’s the old self-fulfilling prophecy. And you know, I think that is an area that we need to work on.”The federal government can influence the attitude of teachers, Spellings said, by getting them more information about how to succeed with students who struggle academically.”They want to do right and do well, and serve students,” Spellings said of teachers. “I think sometimes they have difficulty figuring out how to do that.”Spellings became the nation’s top education official 15 months ago.The hallmark of her tenure has been to try to find an elusive balance. She wants to remain tough about enforcing the law but flexible enough to keep states from revolting.Spellings said the law marks a watershed for closing the racial achievement gap because schools are required to report progress by race, not just overall school averages.Now, she said – even with nearly 2 million students uncounted – parents, teachers and educators have a better idea of how 23 million are doing because of the law’s requirement that children be tested annually in third grade through eighth grade and once in high school.Vail, Colorado

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