The federal government is permitting many schools to escape accountability for the progress of racial or ethnic subgroups under the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a computer analysis released by the Associated Press last week.
Under the law, signed by President Bush in 2002, schools must meet annual performance goals for their student populations as a whole and for specific groups of students. Those groups include racial and ethnic minorities and students who are from low-income families, speak limited English, or have disabilities—as long as enough students in each category meet minimum group sizes set by each state and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Schools receiving federal Title I aid that miss the targets, known as adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for two or more years are subject to increasingly serious consequences.
But, according to the AP’s analysis, the minimum group, or “N,” sizes set in many states are so large that schools aren’t being held accountable for the subgroup performance of some 1.9 million students who fall into various racial or ethnic categories in calculations of AYP.
While Louisiana will count a subgroup once it has 10 students, for example, in California each subgroup must have at least 50 students and make up 15 percent of students tested in the school. (Once a California subgroup has at least 100 students, it no longer has to meet the 15 percent minimum.)
In most cases, schools must still publicly report the subgroup performance of students, even if it doesn’t meet the size for counting that group in AYP calculations. All of the scores are supposed to be included in calculating whether a school’s student body as a whole has met its AYP targets.
“I do think that states have gamed the system,” said Dianne M. Piché, the executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, an advocacy group based in Washington. “What we learned from this is that minority students are much more likely not to be counted than white students.”
State officials countered that even when students’ test scores aren’t counted for subgroup accountability in a racial or ethnic category at the school level, they still may be counted in another category, and in subgroup results at the district level.
“Just because they’re not included in the ethnic group, [it] doesn’t mean they’re not in the English-language-learner group,” said Pat McCabe, the director of policy and evaluation for the California Department of Education.
“We’re a big state, and we have a lot of students,” he said. “They made it sound like we’re hiding the kids.”
According to the AP, the achievement scores of more than 400,000 minority students in California are not being counted by their racial or ethnic categories at the school level when determining AYP results.
To arrive at a nationwide estimate of how many students are not included in racial or ethnic subgroups in calculating AYP at the school level, the Associated Press, a news-gathering cooperative, used 2003-04 school enrollment figures collected by the federal government and the current minimum “N” sizes approved for each state.
The AP analyzed enrollment for each school in grades 3-8 and in grade 10, because the law requires states to test students annually in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school for purposes of calculating progress. The analysis focused only on the law’s five major racial and ethnic categories: white, black, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic. It did not examine students in other categories, such as those with disabilities, to avoid double-counting students who fall into multiple categories.
It found that the scores for fewer than 2 percent of white children nationally aren’t being counted as a separate category in calculating AYP at the school level. In contrast, Hispanic and black students have roughly 10 percent of their scores excluded from subgroup accountability, as do more than one-third of Asian students and nearly half of American Indian students.
Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said, “It’s something that [Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings] is going to look into.”
But he noted that before enactment of the law, an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, only a handful of states were even reporting test scores broken down by racial and ethnic subgroups, something they routinely do now.
Based on the AP’s own analysis, Mr. Colby added, about 93 percent of students are included both in a school’s overall population and in a racial or ethnic category for purposes of calculating AYP.
“I will be seeking from Secretary Spellings detailed information about this problem and about what steps she and her department are taking to correct it,” said Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
The provision in the law was meant to ensure that judgments made about schools are statistically valid and reliable. But Ross Wiener, a principal partner with the Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group that has strongly supported the law, said, “If we were really looking to achieve those goals, there would be much more consistency across states.” He suggested the Education Department convene experts to craft more uniform guidelines.