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Civil Rights Groups Divided On How To Rate School Performance

A letter signed by dozens of civil rights groups -- but not by the Education Trust, Citizen's Commission On Civil Rights -- shows just how divided the broader civil rights community is on whether to include other tests and evidence of performance in the AYP school rating system of NCLB.

"Today's letter -- signed by many more organizations, several with large grassroots membership bases -- demonstrates, among other things, that those two groups [Ed Trust and CCCR] do not represent the views of the broader civil rights community on NCLB," says Bob Schaeffer of the FEA.

There's nothing particularly new about this divide. See below for the press release from the pro-multiple measures umbrella group known as the Forum on Education Accountability. See herefor the Ed Trust's statement, which calls these changes a giant step backwards.


Nearly two dozen major civil rights and disability advocacy groups today called on Congress to include “multiple forms of assessment” and “multiple measures or indicators of student progress” in legislation currently being drafted to overhaul the controversial “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) federal education law. In a letter delivered to members of the Senate and House education committees, the groups wrote, “If education is to improve in the United States, schools must be assessed in ways that produce high-quality learning and that create incentives to keep students in school.”
Signers of the letter included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), ASPIRA Association, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Alliance for Bilingual Education, National Urban Alliance, Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), Civil Rights Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Indian School Board Association and ACORN,
The groups’ letter continued, “A number of studies have found that an exclusive emphasis on (primarily multiple-choice) standardized test scores has narrowed the curriculum. An unintended consequence has been to create incentives for schools to boost scores by keeping or pushing low-scoring students out of school. Push-out incentives and the narrowed curriculum are especially severe for special needs students, English language learners, and students without strong family supports.”
Among the arguments made for including multiple measures:
* attention will be given to a comprehensive academic program and a more complete array of learning outcomes;
* higher-order thinking and performance skills can be assessed;
* checks and balances will be added to ensure that emphasizing one measure does not come at the expense of other important educational goals; and
* schools will be encouraged to attend to the progress of students at every point of the achievement spectrum, not just those near a test cut-point labeled “proficient.”
The letter concluded, “A multiple measures approach that incorporates a well-balanced set of indicators would support a shift toward holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement. This is a necessary foundation for genuine accountability.”
The Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), a group formed to advance the proposals made in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB (now signed by 138 national education, civil rights, religious, disability, parent, civic and labor organizations), praised the letter and cited a recent National Press Club speech by House Education Chairman George Miller as indicators of the wide support for making multiple measures of achievement an important part of any federal education law.
“Clearly, there is an emerging consensus that judging our schools largely on the basis of simple-minded reading and math tests undermines educational quality and equity," said FEA Chair, Dr. Monty Neill.
Two of the Joint Statement's principles explicitly support the use of multiple measures:
* “Provide a comprehensive picture of students' and schools' performance by moving from an overwhelming reliance on standardized tests to using multiple indicators of student achievement in addition to these tests.”
* “Help states develop assessment systems that include district and school-based measures in order to provide better, more timely information about student learning.”

The full list of organizations that have signed the letter: ACORN, Advancement Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, ASPIRA Association, Civil Rights Project, Council for Exceptional Children, Japanese American Citizens League, Justice Matters, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., National Association for Asian Pacific American Education, National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA), National Coalition of ESEA Title I Parents, National Council on Educating Black Children, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, National Indian Education Association, National Indian School Board Association, National Pacific Islander Educator Network (NPIEN), National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA).


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My name is Karen, I have Cerebral Palsy and a learning diability and won the first Civil Rights Case in California back in 1979 under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, for my own education. Something definitely should be done! Something needs to change and quick! Time just keeps frittering away, with a bunch of talk but no real commetment, answers or solution while millions get lost in the suffle! No one ever helped me. I became my own advocate! I faught for myself and still do while others sit back and smirk.

Standardized testing has many faulty problems. It does not measure many other factors that can lead to success in the classroom such as hard work, dedication, and perseverance. That is why a multi measures approach is very important.

For many years, it has been well established that over reliance on multiple choice standardized has contributed to a narrowing what would otherwise be a broad & rich think outside the box educational curriculum. To compete globally we must be able to think outside the box. Our educational system is not currently set up that way. This is a positive step in the right direction.

It is very important that the Federal Government include in federal legislation the “multiple forms of assessment” and “multiple measures or indicators of student progress” in the federal education law. The time has come to make sound policy for our educational system and the federal government must provide the leadership in this area.

The problem with any rating sytem is the inabiity to measure performance based on any objective standard. As any attorney will tell you, this creates a challenge in Court.

The Education Trust clearly does not appreciate the problems associated with standardized multiple tests.

The Educational Trust seems to think that "under this proposal, it’s conceivable that a school might give one test to a White child, another test to a Latino child, and a third test to an African American child. Or that school might decide to administer the same test to all three students, but set different passing scores for each."

There is no evidence to support this position.

The headline of this topic that says the civil rights community is divided on this issue is clearly erroneous as well. Many of the major national civil rights group supports the multi forms of assessment.

However, we applaud Edweek.org for bringing attention to this very important issue.

The Education Trust statement to which Alexander has linked addresses the FEA report released in June 2007 (found here: http://edaccountability.org/AssessmentFullReportJUNE07.pdf ), which - on p. 21 - specifically calls for assessments that "must be sensitive to various forms of diversity, including cultural, both within and across subgroups."

As the parent of an African American male with disabilities, I am terrified of the "multiple measures" choir. This kind of vaguery can easily take us fifty steps backward. It has been VERY important to know how my son is doing, and how my son's school is doing, and how they are doing with other students with disabilities.

Adding measures such as progress towards narrowing achievement gaps, or bringing students with disabilities into the least restrictive environment, or minimizing bullying and harassment--these are things I could be all for. But somehow, I suspect that we're being asked to buy a pig in a poke that will do just as Ed Trust suggests--multiple measures will mean giving everyone a test that they can pass (sort of like the individual goals we have used for IEPs) and accountability goes out the window.

gotta love all the legal eagles writing in to support multiple measures. wonder how that happened?

as for the divide among groups, it's not just the edtrust who's against these changes -- la raza, too, i'm told, as well as the citizen's commission on civil rights.

margo/mom -- i wonder how has your son been treated under NCLB -- any better or worse, far as you can tell? i read somewhere that disabled kids were getting better services since NCLB.

Because I am the kind of pushy mom that I am, my son has been able to take advantage of the district's new attention to students with disabilities in the form of more services. I will note, however, that there is still a culture change that has not taken place. Many teachers still have a "wait and see" attitude towards NCLB and would prefer to continue the way they have always done. So--while I still can't get him out of segregated classrooms in any meaningful way--his special ed teachers had to take some classes in the content that they are teaching, and there are some extra tutors around. My greatest fear is that this will be undone under the push to use alternate measures to assess students with disabilities. Too many of us parents have been fighting individually for years to get measureable goals (that reflect our student's abilities) written into IEPs.

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