One of the most difficult things for a school under No Child Left Behind can be the subgroup scores. I should know, since my school for the past few years has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress based on our disaggregated groups. Last year, we made progress in all areas except for special ed students in math. In previous years, we also had difficulties with the African-American and low income students’ scores, but that has improved over time. Thanks to missing out on progress with these subgroups, even if our overall scores improved, we have been placed into the ominous-sounding Corrective Action. Fortunately, so far we’ve avoided the worst of what that could mean: replacement of adminstration and possibly staff.
Having experienced that, I find it unsurprising that schools in California are recategorizing students to lower their numbers in the disaggregated groups. According to NCLB, you only have to report the scores for groups that are above a certain threshhold of student numbers, which, at least in California, would apear to be 100 students. What if you’re on the borderline of that threshhold and that group is failing you, though? Here’s how one principal handled that problem:
One hundred students were categorized as black when they took the test last spring. But if the school had fewer than 100 students in that group, their low scores wouldn’t count. So Principal Jim Wong reviewed the files of all the students classified as African American on the test, he said, and found that four of them had indicated no race or mixed race on their enrollment paperwork. Wong sent his staff to talk to the four families to ask permission to put the kids in a different racial group.
“You get a kid that’s half black, half white. What are you going to put him down as?” Wong said. “If one kid makes the difference and I can go white, that gets me out of trouble.”
Over the past two years, 80 California schools got “out of trouble” with No Child Left Behind after changing the way they classify their students, a Bee analysis has found. The changes nudged their status from failing to passing under the federal law.
Given NCLB’s penchant for punishment over assistance in cases of falling behind in AYP, this kind of gamesmanship is the only way some schools can survive for now. It’s not something I can approve of, but I can understand why an adminstrator would look to go this route when it means the difference between NCLB’s definitions of success and failure.