- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

The No Child Left Behind Act is forcing many schools to examine why there is such a large achievement gap between white and minority students, according to a new national study.

The federal law requires that schools set targets for “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) by students and report the results by ethnicity, income, sex and other factors.

It “is the beginning of a truth-telling process,” said Ross Wiener, policy director of the Education Trust, which conducted the study.

“Much of the angst concerning this law comes from the fact that AYP is identifying schools with large achievement gaps that were previously designated by their states as being successful based on overall averages,” Mr. Wiener said.

“AYP is forcing these schools to examine why some groups of students are performing far below state proficiency levels while others are exceeding them,” he said.

The study was based on initial state reports of AYP to the U.S. Education Department that documented fourth-graders’ reading and mathematics ability.

In addition to reporting the percentage of students who test proficient in reading and math, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to break apart, or “disaggregate,” the test results for white, black, Hispanic, Asian, low-income, handicapped and low-English-proficient students, as well as boys and girls.

Schools that steadily fail to show sufficient academic progress are targeted for added federal funding to pay for private tutoring of students, transportation costs for children allowed to transfer to other schools, and eventual state takeover and reorganization if they still don’t improve.

The Education Trust, a project established by the American Association of Higher Education in 1990 to foster school reform, examined AYP results in Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Washington state.

The AYP results are providing more accurate information about school and student performance, the group’s report said. “It is identifying shockingly large achievement gaps in schools that were previously designated by their states as ‘successful.’ It is recognizing the good work of previously low-performing schools that have made significant progress in raising achievement for disadvantaged children.”

George Washington Middle School in Alexandria was cited as a school with a huge achievement gap among white, black, and Hispanic students who did not make “adequate yearly progress,” even though the school received full accreditation under Virginia’s state accountability system for the 2002-03 school year.

“Overall, 60 percent of George Washington’s students are proficient in reading/language arts, and 77 percent are proficient in math. But a look beneath the averages tells a disturbing story,” the report said.

It said 96 percent of white students are proficient in both subjects, well above the school average, but in reading/language arts, just 53 percent of blacks and 39 percent of Hispanics are proficient. In math, 64 percent of blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics are proficient.

“There is a gap of 43 percentage points between the reading achievement of George Washington’s white and African-American students and a 57-point gap between the reading achievement of the school’s white and Latino students. Again, we find AYP identifying a school with large achievement gaps, revealing shortfalls that state accountability systems had previously ignored,” the report said.

On the brighter side, Beacon Heights Elementary School in Riverdale, Md., where black students — mostly from low-income families — constitute 84 percent of the student population, is well above state performance goals. Sixty percent of the Prince George’s County school’s black students tested proficient in reading and 76 percent in math.

This year, after two years of “solid improvement,” Seabrook Elementary School in Prince George’s County was taken off the state’s watch list for schools that fail to meet proficiency standards, the report said. The school’s mostly black student population is now 63 percent proficient in reading and 71 percent proficient in math.

However, there is a 20-point and 12-point achievement gap between Seabrook’s black and Hispanic students, who are 83 percent proficient in both subjects.

Education Secretary Rod Paige, traveling in Mississippi and Texas last week, spoke with state and local school officials about “the power” of the 2001 federal education reform law for school improvement, spokesman Daniel Langan said.

“The Education Trust report clearly illustrates the power of disaggregation of data, therefore the power of the No Child Left Behind Act,” Mr. Langan said.

“It is impossible to hide behind averages. Communities have more information than ever before to identify problems and to work together to find solutions.”

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