Hispanic Students ‘Left Out’ By High-Stakes Tests, Panel Concludes

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Hispanic students are not being tested properly, nor are their scores on standardized tests being used for the right purposes, a presidential advisory panel concluded last week.

For More Information

"A Report to the Nation: Policies and Issues on Testing Hispanic Students in the United States" is available free from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans by calling (202) 401-1411.

Members of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans said that while they wholly support the drive for standards-based school reform, they are not happy with how the educational needs of Hispanic students are being addressed within the movement.

"The assessment dialogue that has been going on in this country has not sufficiently included the Hispanic community," Ana M. "Cha" Guzman, the vice president of Austin Community College in Texas and the chairwoman of the commission, said at a press conference here last week. "If our children are not being tested [properly], they will be left out."

Ana M. ‘Cha’ Guzman

The 22-member commission, which was appointed by President Clinton in 1994, published its conclusions in "A Report to the Nation: Policies and Issues on Testing Hispanic Students in the United States." The 97-page report calls on the Department of Education's office for civil rights to look on a state-by-state basis into possible discriminatory practices in the testing of Hispanics.

Commission members speaking at the press conference emphasized what they see as a need for developing better tests for assessing Hispanic students, particularly those with limited proficiency in English. In addition, they said, test scores should be used to hold schools accountable for providing an adequate education to Hispanic students.

Until those issues are resolved, Hispanics' test scores should not be used to keep them from being promoted or from graduating, commissioners argued.

"The high stakes have to be on the schools and school districts and not on children," Ms. Guzman said.

Kenji Hakuta, a professor of education at Stanford University, agreed with the commission's main recommendations.

"It's not appropriate to have the high stakes applied to students until the problems can be addressed," he said.

Mr. Hakuta noted that nearly half of the nation's Hispanic students are considered not proficient in English, and that about 75 percent of students who fall under that category are in high-poverty schools.

Lawsuit in Texas

But Kati Haycock, the director of the Washington-based Education Trust, which aims to improve the academic achievement of minority and disadvantaged students, disagreed with the panel's view that individual students shouldn't be held accountable for their test scores.

"It's a little overly simplistic to say schools can be held accountable without high stakes for the kids," she said. "At the high school level, if there are no incentives for students to work hard and meet standards and do well on a test, they won't."

Ms. Haycock agreed with the commission, however, that state and national testing authorities have no excuse for not having developed better tests to assess students who are learning English.

"The need for better exams has been clear for at least a decade," she said. "There's clearly a need to put some big money fast into developing decent assessments for Spanish-speaking kids."

The report is being released at the same time that the debate over standardized testing of minority students is heating up.

A lawsuit challenging the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills was expected to go to trial this week in the U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

In the suit, GI Forum, et al. v. Texas Education Agency, et al., the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has taken the lead in claiming that the state's use of the TAAS as a graduation requirement discriminates against Hispanic and African-American students. The rationale is that minorities haven't received an education in Texas equal to that of other students.

"The main goal would be to stop the use of the exit test for getting a high school diploma," said Alicia Maldonado, the senior director of communications and public policy for MALDEF. "If you're testing kids on certain kinds of information, they need to be getting that instruction. We say they're not."

Vol. 19, Issue 3, Page 5

Published in Print: September 22, 1999, as Hispanic Students ‘Left Out’ By High-Stakes Tests, Panel Concludes
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