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Nevada’s minority students more likely to be left behind in test scores

BRENDAN RILEY
Associated Press Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal file photo Joanne Green's kindergarten class at Empire Elementary School learns the days of the week and months of the year in February. Empire's kindergarten class of 2006-'07 will be the first and only in Carson City to attend all day. Full-day kindergarten was put in place at Empire because of the school's large at-risk student population and is expected to improve student achievement.
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Minority schoolchildren in Nevada are nearly 10 times more likely to have their standardized test scores excluded from separate reporting to the federal government than white children, an Associated Press analysis has found.

That’s because a loophole in the No Child Left Behind Act allows schools to dodge sanctions by not breaking out test scores for students belonging to certain racial, economic or disabled groups.

Here’s how it works: If there are fewer than 25 children belonging to one of the reporting groups in a school, then officials don’t have to report their scores – and they won’t be judged by them. If there are more than 25 children in a group, then the school has to report them. If even one group doesn’t make progress, the school can be labeled as a failing school and face penalties ranging from restructuring the way it teaches to outright closure.

Minority representatives say the loophole is a major flaw that keeps educators and parents from knowing how well – or how poorly – all students are doing.

Nevada’s state education chief wants to know whether the analysis indicates maneuvering by some schools to avoid penalties for poor performance and low test scores. The head of a Nevada’s teacher union and a teacher-turned-state legislator say school officials aren’t trying to hide anything, but agree that the AP analysis raises questions.

Under Nevada’s current testing methods, more than 9,000 children don’t belong to a group whose progress has to be tracked at the school level. Scores of more than 200,000 students in third through eighth grades and in 10th grade were counted for purposes of showing the state’s compliance with the federal law.

Only about 10 percent of the excluded Nevada students were white while the rest were minority-group members. American Indians accounted for 29 percent of the total, followed by Asians at about 26 percent, blacks at 21 percent and Hispanics at 14 percent.

“It’s important to see who is being excluded because in the past that was a common way to hide the problems of underachieving ethnic groups,” said state schools chief Keith Rheault. “The new federal law did expose that type of practice.

“If this is accurate and the numbers show higher percentages of the students who need the most help are being excluded, then that’s something that needs to be looked at closely by the state,” Rheault added.

Assembly Education Chairwoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, a former school teacher, said the analysis doesn’t match up with her perception of Nevada’s education system.

“I don’t believe for a minute that there is any sort of deception involved,” Parnell said. “This absolutely is not a good loophole because it makes it appear that we are trying to hide our minority students’ testing.”

Parnell said she supports changes that would result in across-the-board testing and reporting of all results, and elimination of the current provision that permits exclusion of some student subgroups.

Ken Lange, head of the Nevada State Education Association which represents teachers, said any inference that the reports showed some schools “systematically work to leave kids behind or do that by default is, above all, an insult.”

The analysis showing the large percentages of excluded tests of minority students is “strange and provocative,” Lange said. But he added it stems from reporting requirements in “a very flawed piece of legislation” that needs major revisions.

Richard Harjo, chairman of the Nevada Indian Commission, noted that American Indian students are the largest single group of students whose scores are excluded in Nevada.

“Because of No Child Left Behind, our children are being pushed farther back,” Harjo said. “We can’t let our kids fall through the cracks just because the system doesn’t want to do its job.”

Without the test scores, Sherry Rupert, the Indian Commission’s executive director, said “We don’t have the numbers to look at to raise a red flag. We don’t know where these kids are going and that’s what we’re trying to find out. That’s what we’re fishing for.”

The Nevada information shows that the exclusion of minority students occurred throughout the state in varying degrees, in schools within the biggest districts in the Las Vegas and Reno areas as well as in outlying communities.

Schools in a dozen of the state’s 17 districts, all outside Las Vegas and Reno, didn’t count any scores of black students in the grades reviewed by the AP. Schools in 13 districts left out Asians, eight left out American Indians and five excluded Hispanics.

The Clark County School District, encompassing populous Las Vegas, excluded the scores of 0.6 percent of its white and Hispanic students, 3.6 percent of blacks, 10 percent of Asians – and 98 percent of its American Indian students.

In Carson City, a breakdown of excluded scores included those of 0.6 percent of white students, all blacks, 70 percent Asians, 0.1 percent Hispanics and 40.1 percent American Indians.

In Douglas County, the “excluded” breakdown was 0.7 percent white, all blacks and Asians, 15.9 percent Hispanics and 98.1 percent American Indian.

The Washoe County School District, which takes in the Reno-Sparks area, excluded scores of 0.4 percent of its white students in the tested grades, 62 percent of blacks, 40 percent of Asians, 2.6 percent of Hispanics and 63.3 percent of American Indians.

In Elko County, the breakdown was 1.5 percent white, all blacks and Asians, 8.9 percent Hispanics and 27.7 percent American Indians.

Nevada has had its share of problems with the federal “No Child” law. A majority of schools failed to meet federal standards during the 2004-05 school year. Of more than 600 schools tested, only 285 met federal standards.

Also, a National Assessment of Educational Progress report card last year showed that, despite some improvements, Nevada’s fourth- and eighth-graders are still slightly below national averages in reading and mathematics.

State and federal laws require schools to move all their students to “proficient” or better performance levels by the 2013-14 school year. But Rheault has said he’d like to change the way student progress is measured under the “No Child” law, so that schools could be rated based on individual students’ progress.

Currently, the federal law requires states to measure schools’ progress by looking at as many as 36 categories, including ethnicity, special education and students whose primary language isn’t English. If a school fails to meet federal standards in one category, it is labeled as failing.

Under the law championed by President Bush, all students must achieve proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Schools receiving federal aid also must demonstrate that students in all racial categories are meeting performance goals or risk penalties that include extending their school year, changing their curriculum or firing their administrators and teachers.

The law signed by Bush in 2002 requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math, reporting the school’s overall measure of success. No students’ 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 schools to ignore scores of racial groups that are too small to be statistically significant.

Overall, AP found 1.9 million students – or about 1 in every 14 test scores – aren’t counted under the law’s racial categories. Nationally, minorities were seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as whites, the analysis showed.

Nevada ‘No Child’ Fast facts

• In Nevada, each demographic subgroup must have at least 25 students for the school to be counted in that that category for test scores.

• The subgroups include American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian, special-Education, limited-English proficiency and low-economic status.

Across Nevada, there are:

• 6,568 students in the American Indian/Alaskan Native group, 1.6 percent of the entire student population of 399,425;

• 28,156 students in the Asian/Pacific Islander group, 7 percent of the whole;

• 127,947 students in the Hispanic group, 32 percent of the whole;

• 43,851 students in the African -American group, 11 percent of the whole; and

• 192,760 students in the Caucasian group, 48.3 percent of the whole.

Snapshot

• Virginia City Middle School, in the Storey County School District, made adequate yearly progress in the 2005-06 school year. Of the eight subgroups, just one counted under No Child Left Behind – Caucasian. That’s because there were fewer than 25 students in each subgroup.