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NCLB Outrages

No Hispanic Student Left Behind: The Consequences of "High Stakes" Testing

By Sandra J. Altshuler and Tresa Schmautz

In 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act was legislated by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. The act was intended to reform U.S. public education and improve student achievement through, among other mechanisms, demanding strict accountability for results of student achievement. It is crucial for school social workers to become more aware of the potentially negative consequences that stem from reliance on "high stakes" testing. The authors review the disparate impact of traditional assessment approaches and high-stakes testing on ethnic minority students in general, and more specifically, on Hispanic students. In addition, the authors discuss the general influence of culture and ethnicity on standardized test results and review various approaches to mitigating such testing effects and discuss their relative merits and drawbacks. The authors ask whether certain Hispanic cultural or ethnic norms influence testing behaviors, thereby often negating results. Implications for social work practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: educational success; Hispanics/Latinos; No Child Left Behind Act; high-stakes tests

The changing demands of an unpredictable world require an educational system capable of delivering world-class learning to all students.The recently enacted No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) (RL. 107-110) was created in response to such demands, 'with the intention of reforming public education and improving student achievement throughout the United States. Although debate about its relative merits began even before the act was legislated, school social workers may be unaware of the negative consequences created by certain aspects of this law, specifically those that require strict accountability measured through standardized testing. Because of the wide-sweeping nature of this law, it is crucial for all school social workers to become more aware of such consequences faced by our vulnerable and disempowered clients.We discuss the consequences of NCLB faced specifically by Hispanic students in U.S. public schools to provide school social workers with the knowledge for effective advocacy. ("Latino" and "Hispanic" are two terms used frequently in the literature to "denote individuals whose ancestry is linked to one of the Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking countries in the Americas. Hispanic is the official term used by the U.S. government" [Suleiman, 2003, p. 186]. For the sole purpose of readability, we use the term Hispanic in this article, unless citing an original source that uses a different term.)


A confluence of needs, monetary constraints, continually declining test scores in worldwide comparisons, and changing employment demands strengthened the cry for educational accountability across the United States (Johnson, 1998; Stiggins & Knight, 1998). This escalating demand for accountability in the U.S. public education system has given rise to a proliferation of "high- stakes" tests as the primary means of individual and system assessment. These tests are labeled high-stakes because the scores are directly tied to issues of consequence, such as individual promotion or graduation, or monetary allotments to schools or systems (Holman, 1995), contrasting with earlier use to identify gaps in learning, but not for reward or punishment. Consequence- based educational assessments became the domain of the federal government during the past decade, with the Bush administration emphasizing the use of annual assessments as a tenet of its educational reform policy (Linn, 2000).

In 2001 Congress reauthorized the Elementary and secondary Education Act (ESEA)-the principal federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school-with the NCLB. Although this article focuses specifically on issues surrounding high-stakes testing, readers are encouraged to visit the official Web site of the U.S. Department of Education at http:// www.nochildleftbehind.gov to learn details about other provisions of this law.

NCLB was purported to reform education and improve student achievement through, among other mechanisms, demanding strict accountability for results of student achievement (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Specific improvements are mandated of low- achieving schools, districts, and states are delineated in the act.The primary practical application of NCLB across U.S. public schools has been to transform yearly, standardized testing into high- stakes, consequence-based testing for students. The relative benefits versus detriments of high-stakes testing and NCLB continue to be debated by politicians, policymakers, educators, and researchers (see, for example, Braun,2004;Jacob, 2001; Linn, 2000; National Education Association [NEA], 2004; Rosenshine, 2003).

Before the practice of high-stakes, consequence-based testing becomes further entrenched in our public schools, we need to consider the specific effects of such testing on culturally diverse students, because these are students who historically have scored lower than white students on standardized tests and are most likely to drop out of school without a high school diploma (Camara & Schmidt, 1999; Lee, 2002). Although ample research has demonstrated the inherent biases of standardized tests against African American students (Lee, 1998; Madaus & Clarke, 2001; Roth, Bevier, Bobko, Switzer, &Tyler, 2001), we know very little about such biases against Hispanic students (Escamilla, Mahon, Riley-Bernal, & Rutledge, 2003; National Center for Education Statistics, 1995; Valencia, Villarreal, & Salinas, 2002). Because individuals identified as Hispanic are currently the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, this lack of awareness must be corrected. It is estimated that by 2046, Hispanics will outnumber white people. Although Hispanics number more than 13 percent of the nation's total population, they constitute more than 25 percent of those younger than age 18.Thus, this article is designed to raise the awareness of school social workers to the potential adverse consequences for Hispanic students of the high-stakes tests being used to adhere to the requirements of NCLB.

— Sandra J. Altshuler and Tresa Schmautz
Children and Schools: BlackEnterprise.com


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