Educators deny undercounting minorities
More than four years after President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, nearly 2 million children's test scores aren't being counted under the law's required racial categories. An Associated Press review found states are exploiting a legal loophole that is giving a false picture of academic progress and leaving some educators fearful that schools might become more segregated. This is the second of a four-part series describing what AP found across the country.
Local education officials are largely unhappy with the first of a four-part Associated Press series being released this week, claiming the state is helping schools avoid potential penalties with a “legal loophole” in the No Child Left Behind law instituted in 2002.
In the first part of the series released Tuesday, the AP reported that schools aren't counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students nationwide - when progress is broken down by racial groups - as compiled in an AP computer analysis.
Part of the law in the act is that groups are not considered “statistically significant” unless they number 100 or more, otherwise the results are skewed, Jeff Holland, Sutter County's superintendent of schools, said Tuesday.
“We do have small populations and small schools ... so in many of those cases they don't even have a population of 100,” he said. “However, that does not mean the schools do not use the data. You still get individualized performance results.”
Holland used Meridian Elementary School as an example. The school's total enrollment is about 70 students, with no more than an average of 10 to 14 students in any grade level.
“So if you were to take first-grade, statistically to use that data is not very valid,” he said. “One kid out of 10 can skew it heavily. There is truth to the idea that small populations make the data less reliable, but it does not mean that schools do not use the data. You have to show overall schoolwide growth both on state and federal requirements.”
The report by the AP analyzed groups of whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, and broke out the total number of students in each racial group. It then compared those numbers with the number of students in each group that was excluded from the testing results, and gave a percentage of the number of students excluded in the school.
“The thing I didn't understand in the way (the AP story) is presented, is the fact they make it sound like the children are not represented in any of the accountability measures for No Child Left
Behind, and that is not true,” Nancy Aaberg, superintendent of the Yuba City Unified School District, said Tuesday. “Every child is counted in the school overall, then all districts have a category. It's not that these students aren't showing up on the radar scope at all; no kids are left out anywhere. I think it's a little oversold in terms of loopholes.”
Ryan Robison, superintendent/principal for Sutter Union High School District, said Tuesday The Associated Press story was “interesting.”
“There are two sides to the story. We have a small district and we know we have to meet the 95 percent, so I don't know of any scores that are being left out,” he said.
Under the NCLB law, it is mandatory that schools test 95 percent of total students enrolled.
All of the administrators contacted by the Appeal-Democrat said they did not consider the exclusion of groups smaller than 100 the loophole described by the AP.
“People need to understand the process, the rules and the way it works,” Robison said. “These groups are really not being excluded; they're just not being counted as a significant subgroup. They are being counted overall as a part of each school.”
Gay Todd, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District, said Monday that the AP story was “sensational” and that the numbers analyzed were old data - scores from the 2003-04 testing results instead of the most recent from 2004-05.
“Educators know those numbers can change drastically in that period of time,” Todd said. “And we're always trying to hit a moving target; the requirements and standards change every year and we're trying to hit a different - and higher - one each time.”
Kay Spurgeon, Colusa County superintendent of schools, said because of the population shifting so constantly, “it changes the significance of a score ... that has been the case from the beginning, but you are supposed to offer alternatives and we do,” she said.
Robison added that the NCLB act, with both state and federal standards, holds the schools at such “high participation levels,” he doesn't believe it would allow a child to slip through the cracks.
The AP reported Sutter Union High School had excluded 41 students from the 2003-04 standards testing results.
“The problem I have with those figures - I don't think we excluded that many kids,” Robison said. “Being a small school, for us 41 kids is a significant amount, because our school is only about 750 or 800,” he said. “But we do look at individual test scores, we have safety nets built in place ... and using external software, that provides feedback to teachers on how the students did on their previous year's test scores, so they know who needs individualized attention.”
The Association of California School Administrators sent a letter to all districts in the state, alerting them to an “Ed Cal” article that will be published “to set the record straight on the issue of counting all students under NCLB. We are very concerned with the distortions presented in the AP article.”
Todd said that “echoes heard throughout the education field” are that “it won't be long until every child is indeed left behind, because of the impossibility of the standards set. Each child is different in maturity, level of proficiency - you name it. Nobody can gauge such a wide variety of differences and expect every single child in every single school to hit those expectations,” she said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Kymm Mann can be reached at 749-4707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.