NBC news ran a report a couple days ago about how some schools in Washington D.C. are using different standards for proficiency on standardize testing. This means that sutdents from racial groups that are historically lower performing, such as black and Hispanic students, do not have to score as high on testing as students from higher performing ethnic groups, such as Asian and white, for the district to meet the requirements for No Child Left Behind.
This seems to go against the tenets of the legislation. No Child Left Behind is intended to raise all children to proficiency levels. It was not put in place to allow the old inequities to continue. It was supposed to fix that system and force accountability on the schools since they could not take responsibility for themselves. Instead, the federal government granted permission to several states in their waiver approvals to use a racially-based measurement system. Minnesota is one of those states.
Unfortunately, a closer look at the waiver request from Minnesota shows racially-based benchmarks. Not only are there differences in the benchmarks, they are substantial differences. For proficiency purposes, NCLB uses a calculation called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). This measurement has three factors: proficiency testing, percentage of students taking the test, and attendance (or graduation rates if the school has a graduating class). These three factors are combined to form the AYP and the basis for rating a school’s performance.
All of this boils down to one thing: the expectations of a student’s ability could be different based on the student’s race and an artificial measurement system based on finances and not academics. A white student in the third grade in 2014 has a target AYP in math of .89 (rounded to two decimal places) and .92 in reading. Meanwhile, her black classmate is targeted to .67 (math) and .76 (reading) while the Hispanic boy in the class has targets of .70 (math) and .74 (reading). All three of these students are in the same classroom at the same time. The teacher has to present the same material and prepare all of them for the test. Funding for the school is on the line as is the teacher’s personal evaluation. With the white student needing to be much more proficient than the black student, who does the teacher give more instruction and assistance to?
It can be argued that this is simply a reporting measure and there is truth in that. It can also be argued that the goals are based on a historical baseline and are set to show growth from that baseline. That may be the case but not a sufficient reason.
This issue, however, could be a major issue and is just another example of the danger of making decisions that affect education for purely financial reasons. That is exactly what this is: a financial decision. The fact is that schools have not been able to close the learning achievement gap that exists. The problem is that the state is not looking to fix the problem. It is instead applying an administrative band aid to cover the failure.
As any parent knows, expectations can be everything in motivating a child. If a parent expects nothing from a child, then the child will respond in the same manner. Children are motivated by challenges. Children are motivated by approval. This applies to school as well. If a teacher does not expect a student to achieve, there is a good chance that the child will not achieve. If a teacher challenges a student to excel, that student will try harder to excel. Minnesota’s waiver request (and approval) to NCLB shows that the state does not expect minority children to excel. They expect minority children to achieve mediocrity while their white peers excel. By putting so much pressure on teachers to improve test scores, this expectation of mediocrity is being funneled down to the classroom as well. Minnesota is expecting its students to improve as the color of their skins gets lighter and the federal government is condoning it through NCLB. It is kind of odd that many believe that these types of beliefs have been left in the past when are children are experiencing them in school every day.