Monday, May 26, 2008

Most kids not taking federal tests are poor, labeled as special needs

Leah Fabel | The Examiner
May 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - High participation rates on standardized tests in Montgomery and Prince George’s County earn the school districts a passing grade under No Child Left Behind, but hide the fact that at the margins, almost all of the students who don’t take the test are poor and labeled with special needs.

In Montgomery, where low-income students made up 26 percent of the district’s 2007 test-takers, they made up 43 percent, or 68 students, who didn’t take the reading test and 39 percent, or 78 students, who didn’t take the math test. Participation rates for the current testing season are due out later this summer.

In Prince George’s County, the actual numbers were higher — 189 low-income students didn’t take the reading test and 227 didn’t take math, but the percentages held true to the about 50 percent of low-income test takers in the county.

Students with special needs fared no better. While they made up 12 percent of total test takers in both districts, they made up 23 percent, or 45 math non-participants in Montgomery County, and 26 percent, or 116 non-test takers in Prince George’s.

Overall, both districts had nearly all of their students take the tests, but in an era where test scores can determine a school’s fate, some worry the lowest performers are subtly encouraged not to show up on test day.

“It’s about transparency and how the most marginalized groups are doing in our public schools,” said Victoria-Maria MacDonald, an education professor at University of Maryland. “If schools embrace No Child Left Behind, that does have to include every single child.”

MacDonald’s research in Florida and Texas schools found that in addition to those kids who didn’t take the test, many low-performing students were “hidden” by loopholes in the law, rendering the number of actual nonparticipants even higher.

Montgomery County school officials take issue with the idea that any student is marginalized and explain the numbers as unable to be helped due to issues like surgery, uncooperative parents and homelessness.

“158 non-test takers with more than 70,000 kids?” said Grace Chesney, the district’s testing supervisor. “That’s such a small number.”

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