By Jim Allen, Editor NuVote Reach and Examiner.com
The Obama Administration has granted waivers to 34 states and the District of Columbia to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) performance mandates – that all children be proficient in reading and math by 2014. These waivers allow Virginia, Florida and other states’ education officials to dumb down testing parameters for student subgroups along ethnic lines, as stop-gap measures, as there is yet no clear signal about the future of NCLB in a second Obama term.
Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) starting points for the 2012-2013 accountability year are based on the actual pass rates of student subgroups in low-performing schools on the 2010-2011 Standards of Learning (SOL) reading assessments and the 2011-2012 mathematics SOL tests. For example, in math, the passing rate is 82 percent for Asian students, 68 percent for whites, 52 percent for Latinos, 45 percent for Afro-Americans and 33 percent for kids
The Florida State Board of Education also in October passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race. By 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level.
For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, 86 percent of whites, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent. It also measures by other groupings, such as students with disabilities, and those living in poverty.
Florida State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan told the Palm Beach Post that setting goals for different subgroups was a direct response to meeting NCLB mandates.
Before NCLB was enacted in 2002, school systems automatically received Department of Education federal funding based on a formula. Now, while trying to cope with the reality of underperforming students, they are forced to craft such controversial methods to stratify federal annual measurable objectives (AMOs) for certain students in reading and mathematics.
“The AMOs are intended as yearly progress measures for low-performing schools; higher-performing schools are expected to maintain or improve upon current pass rates. High schools must also meet a benchmark for graduation,” according to a VBOE report.
“The waivers from NCLB mandates granted by the Obama administration to Virginia and other states mark a dramatic shift in federal education policy,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said in the VBOE report.
“We are now able to target school turnaround efforts and resources on those schools where students truly are falling behind,” Wright added.
The Virginia Department of Education has directed 485 of its 2093 public schools to develop and implement improvement plans to raise the achievement of student subgroups that fell short of AMOs.
“Over the next six years, the lowest-performing students will be expected to make the greatest gains,” VBOE President David M. Foster said in the VBOE report.
“The benchmarks are challenging but achievable and reflect the board’s firm belief that all students are capable of meeting Virginia’s rigorous standards,” he added.
“Relief from unworkable federal mandates is welcome but there must be no retreat from the goal of closing the achievement gap,” Virginia Republican Governor Robert F. McDonnell was quoted in the VBOE report.
“Every student has a right to attend a school where expectations for learning are high and there is accountability for results,” he added.
“To expect less from one demographic and more from another is just a little off-base,” Juan Lopez, magnet coordinator at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Riviera Beach, told the Palm Beach Post.
JFK Middle School is 88-percent Afro-American.
“Our kids, although they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the ability to learn,” Lopez said. “To dumb down the expectations for one group, that seems a little unfair,” he added.
Not unlike Virginia education officials, Florida educators say the curved-assessment standards take into account that not every group is starting from the same point and the bottom line is: critical federally funding is tied to NCLB mandates.
“The fact is, many educators didn’t take NCLB seriously because it assumed all children start from the same place and learn at the same rate. That’s just not reality,” US Department Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington in October.
“Personally, I am less concerned about performance targets and goals,” he said, “than I am about getting results – and at the end of the day, the result that matters most is whether kids are learning and gaps are narrowing,” he added.
Jon Schnur, education adviser to President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, said the president acknowledges that meeting the NCLB goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014 wasn’t realistic.
“President Obama supports having different standards for subgroups as long as the groups were making significant gains toward high academic standards every year,” said Schnur as an Obama surrogate in a presidential campaign debate on education.
“Obama sees this as the more realistic approach in that it embraces ambitious standards but sets attainable goals,” Schnur added.
“Of course it bothers me [where you have Afro-Americans expected not to reach the same level of proficiency as white students in certain subjects]. And—and one of the good things about No Child Left Behind was to say all kids can learn. Black, white, Hispanic, doesn’t matter. That everybody should be able to achieve at a certain level. But the problem that you had was, because it was under-resourced, and because some kids were coming in to school, a lot of minority kids were coming into school, already behind, the schools were not going to be meeting these standards, weren’t even coming close to meeting these standards.,” said Obama to NBC in September.
In 2008, candidate Obama campaigned on rewriting NCLB. In 2010, Obama released guidelines for reauthorization of the law, but Congress failed to pass a revised bill, thus the advent of Obama’s NCLB-mandate waivers.
Some political pundits say granting NCLB waivers and the attendant flexibility to states was an Obama 2012 campaign give-away. Some education experts say it is not clear if the Obama administration sees reauthorizing NCLB as a second-term priority – viewing the state waivers as a possible panacea.
I was once a television news reporter in West Palm Beach, FL and was educated in Virginia Public Schools that were segregated until I was in the 9th grade – thus my continued interest in those jurisdictions.
One wonders about the possible stigma placed on a Virginia or Florida public school student by being officially identified as a member of an underperforming group, when in fact that student may be quite competitive and rank high on standardized tests on their own merits.
This is a sensitive area, but is there a plan in place for one to disassociate ones high-achieving child from its own underperforming “racial group?”
In addition to my 2 adult children, I have 2 minor children and 4 minor grandchildren, some of whom could be members of more than one ethnic group, if they so chose. We prefer they be judged by one set of rules. If we had special needs kids, we would address that education process appropriately, but we do not.
As it happens, my youngest daughter, identified in Maryland Public Schools as an Afro-American 4th grader, this week brought home her standardized County Quarterly Assessment test results. She scored in the 93.5 percentile in reading and 90.9 percentile in math.
We’d like to stand on those results without fear of a possible state-mandated ethnic subgroup identification calling into question her test results – vis a vis the assumption of a non-existent testing curve.
Should students now have to possibly distance themselves from a systematic marginalization of their ethnic group – or do you try harder to fix bad laws, equitably fund schools, fix bad schools, get better standards for judging teachers and principals and invest more in Head Start (or the like) and parenting intervention – as all credible studies indicate the “early learning” years are clearly where the education gap first manifests?
Let’s face it, for whatever reasons, some kids seem to fare better on standardized tests than other kids – and I am talking about within my own family, not across ethnic lines. One test or no test, for all – and let’s really start to look at true education reform.
Continuing to force our state school systems to grovel for federal dollars, in an unrealistic model, while possibly stumbling into the creation of new forms of ethnically focused self loathing for students – along with possibly institutionalizing lesser regard from their peers and targeted institutions of higher learning – cannot possibly be helpful to improving student achievement.