April 30, 2008
The requirement that states disaggregate test-score results by race is one feature of No Child Left Behind that receives near-universal praise. So dividing the data focuses communities on closing the achievement gap, for example, and it doesn't allow shiny test-score averages to hide the poor performance of particular student subgroups. But such a race-based approach has its problems, nonetheless, and it now appears that NCLB's chickens are coming home to roost. That's the inescapable conclusion from a recent exposé by the Sacramento Bee, which found 80 cases in California in which schools "got out of trouble" with NCLB by reclassifying the racial identity of their students. Will C. Wood Middle School Principal Jim Wong, for instance, had his staff ask the parents of four mixed-race children for permission to identify the youngsters as Caucasian. "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." Wong's methods aren't admirable, they're even cynical, but he's undeniably responding to the incentives that NCLB provides. It's time to transcend NCLB's focus on race with a new focus on the performance of individual students.
"Schools reclassify students, pass test under federal law," by Laurel Rosenhall and Phillip Reese, Sacramento Bee, April 27, 2008