Standards Tougher on Diverse Schools
Note: The study to which this article refers is available at:
Consider this pair of Oakland elementary schools:
Manzanita and Golden Gate both soared about 50 points this year on California's Academic Performance Index. Both hover around 614 on the 1,000- point index. And test scores rose higher than expected at both. The schools are nearly twins in academic performance.
But under new federal education rules known as No Child Left Behind, Golden Gate is worth attending; Manzanita is not. Labeled a "school in need of improvement," Manzanita -- like thousands of other schools across California and the nation -- must accept state help and tell all students they may change schools.
The reason for the apparent double standard: Manzanita is more diverse than Golden Gate, says a new study of how the federal rules affect California schools. The rules require that large "subgroups" of students in each school meet academic goals. Each ethnic group, as well as low-income students and English learners, must score at a certain level or the school is subject to federal sanctions.
That amounts to a "diversity penalty," says the study due out today by researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California. More than 7,000 California schools, virtually all the state's schools, were included in the study.
The researchers want the federal government to let schools avoid sanctions even if subgroups miss academic targets. But defenders of the system say no one should be exempt from meeting high academic standards.
According to the study, California schools with the wealthiest students have an 83 percent chance of meeting their academic targets if they have only one subgroup. The more subgroups there are, the more hurdles the school must overcome, and the more its chance of meeting targets drops.
With six subgroups, even wealthy schools have only a 53 percent chance of meeting targets, the study found. The pattern sharpens at schools with poorer students, so that schools with 75 percent or more poor students and six subgroups have only a 16 percent chance of meeting targets, the study found.
Golden Gate, with two subgroups -- black and low-income students -- met all of its federally required academic goals this year.
Manzanita, with five subgroups -- English learners and black, Asian American, Latino and low-income students -- did not, though it came close. Had six more black students scored at the "proficient" level in math, Manzanita would not have to accept state help as part of a federally mandated program for underperformers.
"Unfortunately for Manzanita, it serves a diverse array of families," the study says. "Even when students display almost identical average test scores, schools with more subgroups are more likely to miss their (goals)."
Under federal rules, the performance of the entire school is evaluated, in addition to that of each subgroup. Only schools receiving federal Title 1 funds for poor students can be placed in the program, though all schools' evaluations are made public.
The researchers acknowledge that requiring all groups to meet academic targets is meant to prevent any one from falling through the cracks. Calling this a "well-intentioned hope," the researchers nevertheless recommend that subgroups' performance not count for sanctions.
"Washington could require that information about progress for certain subgroups be distributed publicly while not necessarily triggering sanctions," they said.
"The federal government has to fix this situation," said Bruce Fuller of UC Berkeley and a co-director of the research group Policy Analysis for California Education, which conducted the study.
But Russlyn Ali, executive director of Ed Trust West in Oakland, a student advocacy group, said doing so "would turn the clock backward and would not close the achievement gap."
"If I'm African American, and my kids are enrolled in a school where African American students aren't meeting their targets, then something needs to happen," Ali said.
Keith Nomura, a supervisor with Oakland schools who oversees both Manzanita and Golden Gate, agreed. "If we're really going to close the achievement gap, then we need to have all the groups in the school make progress," he said.
The new report also found that federal education requirements conflicted with California's own. Manzanita, for example, did well by state standards because all of its subgroups improved by a certain amount on state tests.
But the federal government requires that all groups meet a certain threshold that is set to The odds that a school will meet federal academic targets decline as diversity rises because its "subgroups" -- ethnic groups, low-income students and English learners -- have to meet goals separately.
rise incrementally until 2014, when every student is expected to perform at the "proficient" level on achievement tests. The six students who failed to meet this year's threshold in math prevented Manzanita from meeting its federal target.
The new study called it "plainly bizarre that many schools display strong growth in achievement -- responding to state accountability pressure in spades -- but then are stigmatized as failing by the federal government."
The study urges Washington to "respect states' own methods for determining achievement growth within schools."
On that recommendation, Nomura of Oakland strongly agreed.
Diverse schools must jump more hurdles
E-mail Nanette Asimov at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pct of Number of Pct of
low-income subgroups schools that
students at school at school met academic goals
Less than 25% 1 83%
25-50% 1 67%
50-75% 2 74%
More than 75% 2 53%
Standards tougher on diverse schools
San Francisco Chronicle
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES