Nearly 2 million scores uncounted under 'No Child' law's loophole
By Frank Bass, Nicole Ziegler Dizon and Ben Feller, Associated Press Writers
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 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.
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