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Minorities’ test scores not counted

Laquanya Agnew and Victoria Duncan share a desk, a love of reading and a passion for learning. But because of a loophole in the No Child Left Behind Act, one second-grader’s score in Tennessee counts more than the other’s.That is because Laquanya is black, and Victoria is white.An Associated Press computer analysis has found Laquanya is among nearly 2 million children whose scores aren’t counted when it comes to meeting the law’s requirement that schools track how students of different races perform on standardized tests.The AP found that states are helping public schools escape potential penalties by skirting that requirement. And minorities – who historically haven’t fared as well as whites in testing – make up the vast majority of students whose scores are excluded.There are about 220 students at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn., where President Bush marked the second anniversary of the law’s enactment in 2004. Tennessee schools have federal permission to exclude students’ scores in required racial categories if there are fewer than 45 students in a group.There are more than 45 white students. Victoria counts.There are fewer than 45 black students. Laquanya does not.One of the consequences is that educators are creating a false picture of academic progress.”We’re forcing districts and states to play games because the system is so broken, and that’s not going to help at all,” said Kathy Escamilla, a University of Colorado education professor. “Those are little games to prevent showing what’s going on.”White students counted mostThe 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. All public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, although only children above second grade are required to be tested.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.”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.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.’Why don’t they feel she’s important’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.”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.Some students feel left behind, too.”It’s terrible,” said Michael Oshinaya, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in New York City who was among a group of black students whose scores weren’t broken out as a racial category. “We’re part of America. We make up America, too. We should be counted as part of America.”Associated Press Writers Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, Nahal Toosi in New York and Garance Burke in Kansas City contributed to this report.On the Net:U.S. Education Department: http://www.ed.gov/


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