Massachusetts education officials have released data that they hope will counteract what they say is a false public perception that most students in the class of 2003 who haven’t yet passed the state’s high school exit exams are members of minority groups or come from poor families.
The data, presented in several tables, show that 55 percent of students in the class of 2003 who haven’t passed the English and mathematics exams that they take for the first time in 10th grade are white.
The tables also show that a majority of students who haven’t passed the exit exams aren’t from low-income families, don’t have limited proficiency in English, and aren’t enrolled in special education classes.
Passing English and math on the 10th grade tests is a graduation requirement for the first time with the class of 2003.
“What these tables show is that the majority of students who have not yet passed both tests are white,” said Heidi B. Perlman, the director of communications for the Massachusetts Department of Education, which released the data this month. “This is important information to get out there, because there seems to be a general concern among critics of the exam that the ones who have not passed yet are mostly blacks and Hispanics and low-income students.”
But Roger Rice, the executive director of Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy Inc., a nonprofit advocacy organization in Boston, countered that “all the data demonstrates is that most of the people in Massachusetts are white.”
Whites are underrepresented among those students who have failed, while blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented, according to the state education department’s data.
Whites made up 80 percent of students in the class of 2003 who were 11th graders last year, but they are only 55 percent of those who have not passed the Massachusetts exit tests. Blacks and Hispanics each constituted 8 percent of the same group of 11th graders, but blacks make up 18 percent and Hispanics make up 22 percent of students who have not passed.
Mr. Rice’s organization has joined others in filing a lawsuit that challenges the state’s testing program, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. The lawsuit, filed Sept. 19 in the federal district court in Springfield, Mass., charges that the tests discriminate against Hispanic, black, limited-English- proficient, and vocational education students and students with disabilities. (“Massachusetts Sued Over Graduation Tests,” Oct. 2, 2002.)