T Nation

No Child Left Behind Revisited


Interesting application of No Child Left Behind.


AP: States Omit Minorities' School Scores

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.

The Education Department said that while it is pleased that nearly 25 million students nationwide are now being tested regularly under the law, it is concerned that the AP found so many students aren't being counted by schools in the required racial categories.

"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."

The plight of the two second-graders shows how a loophole in the law is allowing schools to count fewer minorities in required racial categories.

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."

Under the law signed by Bush in 2002, 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 law requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math. No scores can be excluded from a school's 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 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.

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, the 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, 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. 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.

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.

Students whose tests aren't being counted in required categories also 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.

State educators defend the exemptions, saying minority students' performance is still being included in their schools' overall statistics even when they aren't being counted in racial categories. Excluded minority students' scores may be counted at the district or state level.

Spellings said she believes educators are making a good-faith effort. "Are there people out there who will find ways to game the system?" she asked. "Of course. But on the whole ... I fully believe in my heart, mind and soul that educators are people of good will who care about kids and want them to find opportunity in schools."

Bush has hailed the separate accounting of minority students as a vital feature of the law. "It's really essential we do that. It's really important," Bush said in a May 2004 speech. "If you don't do that, you're likely to leave people behind. And that's not right."

Nonetheless, Bush's Education Department continues to give widely varying exemptions to states:

_Oklahoma lets schools exclude the test scores from any racial category with 52 or fewer members in the testing population, one of the largest across-the-board exemptions. That means 1 in 5 children in the state don't have scores broken out by race.

_Maryland, which tests about 150,000 students more than Oklahoma, has an exempt group size of just five. That means fewer than 1 in 100 don't have scores counted.

_Washington state has made 18 changes to its testing plan, according to a February report by the Harvard Civil Rights Project. Vermont has made none. On average, states have made eight changes at either the state or federal level to their plans in the past five years, usually changing the size or accountability of subgroups whose scores were supposed to be counted.

Toia Jones, a black teacher whose daughters attend school in a mostly white Chicago suburb, said the loophole is enabling states and schools to avoid taking concrete measures to eliminate an "achievement gap" between white and minority students.

"With this loophole, it's almost like giving someone a trick bag to get out of a hole," she said. "Now people, instead of figuring out how do we really solve it, some districts, in order to save face or in order to not be faced with the sanctions, they're doing what they can to manipulate the data."

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."

Spellings' department is caught between two forces. Schools and states are eager to avoid the stigma of failure under the law, especially as the 2014 deadline draws closer. But Congress has shown little political will to modify the law to address their concerns. That leaves the racial category exemptions as a stopgap solution.

"She's inherited a disaster," said David Shreve, an education policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "The 'Let's Make a Deal' policy is to save the law from fundamental changes, with Margaret Spellings as Monty Hall."

The solution may be to set a single federal standard for when minority students' scores don't have to be counted separately, said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Washington-based Education Trust.

While the exemptions were created for good reasons, there's little doubt now that group sizes have become political, said Wiener, whose group supports the law.

"They're asking the question, not how do we generate statistically reliable results, but how do we generate politically palatable results," he said.

Associated Press Writers Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, Nahal Toosi in New York, Duncan Mansfield in Knoxville and Garance Burke in Kansas City contributed to this report.


Unfortunately, I'm not really surprised.

The schools are failing, and without a major shakeup such as vouchers or charters, which the teachers' unions are against and which the local school boards are against (for different but related reasons, none of which really has to do with fixing how they are failing the students). So, faced with the consequences built into the law, which are the withdrawl of some federal funding to failing schools, the states essentially sanction fudging the numbers.

It's kind of like when the bankruptcy court leaves in place the management team that drove the company into bankruptcy in the first place. One is hardly surprised when they continue to fail, and do things to attempt to deflect the blame.


Al Durr,

The loophole is completely fucked and needs to be closed as quickly as possible. You don't have a problem with this part of the law, though, do you?


I thought "no child left behind" meant they can all serve in the military and get sent overseas...




Call me crazy, but a return to the no-bullshit, keep kids behind a year, smack them upside the head if they get out of line system of days gone by (or the not se recent past if you are from a former colonial country) is the way to go.

A solid sense of discipline and slight discomfort when sitting down defined my schoolboy years. Nothing keeps you in line and motivated like the bamboo cane behind the teacher's desk.


That is the plan for the illegal aliens.


That system didn't work in lower income school districts or kids with little guidance in lower income households. Kids began only going to school because you could get caught by police if you didn't. They didn't study and failed year after year. One kid in my junior high school couldn't play football one year even though he was the biggest guy on the team. The reason? He was 18.

That system favors those who are raised with values that include an education by their parents. It does nothing for the ones from single parent households where the mother works 3 jobs, is never home, and the kid in question is basically raising his younger brothers and sisters on his own. You all do know circumstances like this exist, right?


Yeah, and I know of circumstances alot worse than that back home. Obviously getting parents to be more accountable for the growth of their children will go a long way. But then what do we do for the examples that you mentioned? Because as the system stands things are not getting better, high school dropout rates are at an all-time high, kids these days are getting more messed up (for example the popular drug of choice in my old high school is now cocaine, like what the fuck?).

I mean it really is a big problem, and I don't mean to sound racist or anything, but being smart is not really a characteristic glamourized in any class/race in this country. Back in South Africa the kids that got the top grades were well-respected, as much as the athletese at my old high school. My 2 years at high school here I saw very little of that. Sure the smart kids respect the smart kids, but the average high schooler considered you a dork and that was that. In a society where good looks and physical prowess on the sporting field take precedence, how do we go about convincing kids to spend 2 hours studying instead of playing hoops.

The problem to me is more exagerated in poorer communities, which tend to be minorities. Maybe its just me not knowing enough, but it seems that a lot of these kids stand little chance of getting thru college. Not cos they aren't bright enuff, but because of the socio-economic barriers they have to break.

Maybe you can shed some light on this for me Prof. X. What do these kids from for example a black family w/ a single mom working 3 jobs have to aim for once high school is over? How are they supposed to pay for college if they aren't some talented athlete?


By changing the schools. I went to a highschool with no sports program. the entire school was "nerds" in the sense that most of the people in my class would have been at the top of their class, more than likely, at other local high schools. The school was started by a well known cardiologist, Dr. Micheal Debakey. His goal was to get more minorities into the health field. That included testing students just to get into the high school.

The social dynamics were the same, however, as most schools. I was a "nerd" my freshmen year because I looked like one. I wore glasses and was skinny. We had preps, a few girls who made extreme efforts to be in every beauty pageant in the city, and we had "jocks" who played sports at other high schools after school. It is hard to be a true failure when you are in a very competitive environment and the only way to stand out is to carve your way into, not only social status, but educational status as well. Grades were important to most of the kids at that school...even to the ones who schemed harder than Ferris Bueller could ever dream of just to get the grade.


They aim for the same thing everyone else in their neighborhood aims for...a cadillac escalade, one fine bitch at your side and some cash in your pocket. As long as all you can see is what is directly in front of you, what else do you expect? That is why social programs are needed and anyone thinking they aren't is living a fantasy.


Wow, that sounds awesome.


Yeah, that is kinda what I guessed.


It's amazing how nothing works as well as a good set of parents. It's a shame that we have less and less of them each decade.



I don't have any problem with that at all. The school has a responsibility to take care of ALL the students, not just a select few. If they are not doing their job right by all the students, they should be punished. However, I also believe that the lawmakers have a responsibility to the school systems to make sure that they have the proper funding they need to meet the requirements of NCLB, up to and including paying teachers decent salaries. If the lawmakers aren't doing their jobs, they should be punished as well.

There are janitors that clean toilets in federal buildings in D.C. that make more than teachers. Not saying that janitors aren't important, but come on. Teachers have the ability mold the minds of our young and their pay sucks. Plus, if the salaries are competitive, you get a larger pool of talent to draw from and a better chance to get good teachers.

This is where one (not all, but one) of the big problems lies with NCLB. NCLB was implemented without any real planning. Many of the lawmakers didn't take it seriously enough to support their school systems adequately. Many of them were too busy worrying about keeping their power base and not serving the needs of their constituency. Please note, I am not pointing fingers at any one side of the fence, all sides are equally guilty on this. This is not a partisian issue, this is an issue of many kids getting screwed behind piss poor planning and implementation.


To me the shame of it isn't that it is not being funded completely from a federal level. The shame of it is that it took federal action in the 21st century to make sure all states were doing the simple things NCLB requires.


Finally something I agree with Democrats on:


Lawmakers Seek to Close No Child Loophole


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fourteen Democratic lawmakers on Friday asked Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to quickly close a loophole that has allowed large numbers of minority students' test scores to go uncounted under the No Child Left Behind law.


I have two kiddos, ages 12 and 14. What saddens me is that they are taught to pass a test, not to learn anything. Just pass the test. So much pressure is placed on them by their teachers that my youngest - a sixth grader - could not sleep the nights before the exams ( a two day affiar).

School is supposed to be about learning, not passing a fucking test. NCLB should be obliterated, right along with the Dept. of Education.


Do you really think a group of individuals who can't get these kids to pass a minimum skills test would teach ANYTHING at all if they weren't held accountable in some way? In a perfect world these tests wouldn't be needed, but at this point not having them would make things a lot worse.

If a school actually TEACHES the subject matter 99% of the year, spends more time on task and less time on diversity/sensitivity/earth-day crap, then their kids are prepared for the TAKS with minimum worry.

I spend a week or so addressing the test each year; the rest of the year I'm teaching math. Same with reading. If the kid can't read a freaking two page story and answer some multiple choice questions, no amount of test-prep is going to change that.

If your kids really are taught just to pass the test and aren't learning anything, you owe it to them to put your foot up the school board's collective ass.


Somehow I remember something in the constitution about rights assigned to the states. It's awfully fuzzy, though...