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Different goals for different races spark debate in Virginia



Virginia has sparked an intense debate with its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law by including in its plan different academic goals for different races and income levels.

Education leaders in the state say the goals are supposed to be realistic, replacing the largely unreachable targets established by NCLB. Civil rights leaders are concerned that it sets up lower expectations for different races. Not surprisingly, this has prompted a lot of discussion.

The Washington Post reports:

"Under the plan, Asian students are expected to achieve a higher pass rate on state exams than white students, while the state sets lower goals for Hispanic, black and special education students."

Remember that NCLB expected 100 percent of students to achieve proficiency in English and math by 2014. Most education leaders have said that's impossible, and the Obama administration has been giving waivers to states to give them a little wiggle room from the more punishing aspects of the law. (The debate about waivers is another big topic in itself.)

Virginia's plan would expect schools, by 2017, to have 89 percent of Asian students pass the state's standardized math test, but only 78 percent of white students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 57 percent of black students. (The state plan includes other differentiated standards for earlier years.)

Here are some of the reactions to the Virginia plan:

Andrew Rotherham, a well-known education columnist who once served on the Virginia board of education, decried the state plan as "together and unequal" in an op-ed for the Post. He writes:

"It sends a debilitating message to students, parents and educators because there is no way around the fact that the commonwealth is codifying different expectations for various groups of students. Virginia students of all races and incomes go to school together, but "together and unequal" is the message of the new policy. Assuming that no even six in 10 poor or black students will pass the state's math test in 2017 reinforces negative beliefs about what should be expected from these students."

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative policy organization, takes a different view. He writes:

"But on this one, Andy's got it wrong, and Virginia officials have it right. As David Foster, the president of Virginia's state board of education told The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton, 'If you just set an arbitrary target without regard for what's achieveable and where they're starting from, you're just shooting in the dark. That was the whole problem with No Child Left Behind. It made no sense to say that by an arbitrary year...every child everywhere in this vast country would pass every math and reading test. We made a joke of the process that way.' Petrillie continues: ....if the law's objectives, carrots and sticks are to actually motivate educators, and not just demoralize them, they must be seen as achievable. So why is it so 'stunning' that Virginia wouldn't expect the achievement gap to evaporate in just five years?"

What do you think? Should the goals be the same for all students, regardless of race or income? What about for special education students? Is this a good way to measure student progress in the first place - note that this still looks at the outcome of a single test - and, if not, what is?




[Last modified: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 6:16pm]


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