Isle schools cull test data to avoid distortions
In determining federal compliance, test scores are not always broken down by categories, as required
All Hawaii students' standardized test scores, regardless of race or social status, are counted toward a school's overall performance assessment under the No Child Left Behind Act, state officials say.
However, in determining a school's compliance with the federal law, those test scores are not always broken down by categories such as race, poverty, migrant status, English proficiency and special needs, as required.
An analysis by the Associated Press indicated that in 2003-04, the latest year for which data were available, 7,983, or nearly 8 percent, of 100,432 students' test scores in Hawaii were not broken out and reported under such categories.
Failure to meet performance standards in any one category can result in an entire school failing its Annual Yearly Progress assessment, but the law allows for exemptions when subgroups do not contain enough students to be considered statistically significant.
The AP report found that schools deliberately are not counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students nationwide and that minorities -- who historically have not fared as well as whites in testing -- make up the vast majority of students whose scores are being excluded.
State Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the House Education Committee, said all Hawaii students' test scores are counted when determining a school's overall performance under No Child Left Behind. All scores also are counted in determining the state's overall proficiency.
But if a school has fewer than 40 students of a particular category, that category is not required to be reported separately by the school, he said.
For example, Enchanted Lake Elementary School in Kailua had only two black students who took standardized tests in 2003-04, according to the AP.
"If one of these kids fails in that test, you've got a 50 percent failure rate among the African-American kids -- your school will not make annual yearly progress because one subgroup fails," said Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades). "It's like doing a public opinion poll of 10 people -- you'd get a result, but would anybody trust that result? It just doesn't make any sense."
Many subgroups in Hawaii had only a handful of students, which also raises privacy concerns, Takumi said.
For example, at Kaaawa Elementary School, only one Hispanic student was tested in 2003-04.
In that case, if the Hispanic subgroup was reported as failing, "it's pretty obvious who that child is," Takumi said. "So there are privacy issues that come about as a result."
Breaking down students by race also is problematic in Hawaii, Takumi added, because many mixed-race students might only identify with one ethnicity when given a choice on a standardized test.
Schools exploit No Child loophole
Scores are withheld for some minorities to avoid penalties
States are helping public schools escape potential penalties by skirting the No Child Left Behind law's requirement that students of all races must show annual academic progress.
With the federal government's permission, schools deliberately are not counting the test scores of nearly 2 million students when they report progress by racial groups, an Associated Press computer analysis found.
Minorities -- who historically have not fared as well as whites in testing -- make up the vast majority of students whose scores are being excluded, AP found. And the numbers have been rising.
"I can't believe that my child is going through testing just like the person sitting next to him or her and she's not being counted," said Angela Smith, a single mother. Her daughter, Shunta' Winston, was among two dozen black students whose test scores were not counted to judge her suburban Kansas City, Mo., high school's performance by race.
Under the law championed by President Bush, 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 U.S. Education Department said it did not know the breadth of schools' undercounting until seeing AP's findings.
"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."
Students whose tests are not being counted in required categories include Hispanics in California who do not speak English well, blacks in the Chicago suburbs, American Indians in the Northwest and special-education students in Virginia, 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.
One consequence is that educators are creating a false picture of academic progress.
"The states aren't hiding the fact that they're gaming the system," said Dianne Piche, executive director of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, a group that supports No Child Left Behind. "When you do the math ... you see that far from this law being too burdensome and too onerous, there are all sorts of loopholes."
The law signed by Bush in 2002 requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math. No scores can be excluded from the 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 would not be counted because there are not enough to provide meaningful information and because officials want to protect students' privacy.
To calculate a nationwide estimate, 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, AP found that about 1.9 million students -- or about 1 in every 14 test scores -- are not being counted under the law's racial categories. Minorities are seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as whites, the analysis showed.
Spellings said she believes educators are acting in good faith. "I fully believe in my heart, mind and soul that educators are people of good will," she said.