12-05-2016  2:43 am      •     

MILTON, Wash.—Brittany Vigoreaux is a statistical anomaly in the world of educational testing and the federal No Child Left Behind law.

As one of a dozen American Indian students at Fife High School, the 15-year-old's test scores are not reported to the federal government to illustrate whether her school is making adequate yearly progress.

Every state in the nation takes advantage of a loophole in the law's requirement that students of all races must show progress. In Washington, if your school has fewer than 30 students in any ethnic group, their scores are not reported separately, but just rolled into the school's average.

But in Brittany's case, Fife High School would probably rather hang a banner showing her attractive face and her straight-A report card than hide her score on the 10th grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning. But schools can't pick and choose which scores they highlight and which they don't.

Nationwide, nearly half of the 153,000 American Indian test scores aren't reported at a school level, the most left out among any racial group. This helps many schools, since Indians traditionally haven't performed as well on standardized tests as Whites. Even if one small group doesn't make adequate progress, an entire school can face penalties ranging from a revised curriculum to outright closure.

In Washington, nearly two-thirds of Indian scores aren't reported at the school level.

Under the law championed by President George W. Bush, all students must achieve proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Schools receiving federal aid also must demonstrate that students in all racial categories are meeting performance goals or risk penalties.

Fife High School doesn't break out all 55 of its minority students or 20.3 percent of the school's population from the testing report. District-wide statistics for the 3,200 students in a semi-rural swath along Interstate 5 between Tacoma and Federal Way do show how different ethnic groups are doing, however, and in this district, there's nothing to hide.

Nationally, AP found 1.9 million students — or about 1 in every 14 test scores — aren't counted under the law's racial categories. Minorities were seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as Whites, the analysis showed.

In Washington, 50,607 students — or about 1 in every 10 test scores — aren't counted, the AP found. Meanwhile, statistics kept by the state education department show that in general, Black, Hispanic and American Indian students are all failing to meet the standards set by the No Child Left Behind law.

In Fife, Indian students are doing as well or better than the district average in reading, math and writing, according to last year's 10th grade WASL scores.

"My group of friends is all in the honors program," including Indian students and others, Tiffany said. In her regular classes, there are "people who just don't even try."

Hispanic and Asian 10th graders have done equally well in Fife. The district did not call out numbers for Black students because there were fewer than 10 Black students in the 10th grade at the district's one high school.

Brittany's mother, Cindy, gives a lot of credit for her daughter's success to Phyllis Covington, who coordinates the Fife Indian Education Program, and makes sure students are keeping up with their work and are getting the help they need.

Covington said American Indian students, in general, are doing very well in her district, but is concerned about too much emphasis being placed on the test, causing excess worry among students and parents and detracting from real learning.

"It's like you have the tiger by the tail and you're just whirlingitaround," Covington said.

The racial categories loophole isn't the only method being used in Washington state to keep low scores out of the statistical mix.

At Seattle's Roosevelt High School, many of the students in Beth Orme's math improvement class have been reclassified as freshman even though they're in their second year of high school.

As a result, none of the students — a diverse group of White, Black, Hispanic, Southeast Asian and mixed-race students — will take the WASL this month.

In February, the Seattle School District announced it was reclassifying 827 students because they had failed too many classes in their first year.Themovewas designed to delay the test for kids who are struggling, but it also has the effect of taking their scores out of the mix.

"They're trying to make themselves look good," said Tiffany Carroll, 15, who is less than one credit away from being a sophomore.

Carroll, who described herself as half White and half Filipino, Spanish and Asian, said the extra math class is really helping her improve after failing both semesters of freshman math. She thinks she could pass the WASL if she had to.

In 2005, 46.9 percent of Washington 10th graders who took the WASL passed all three sections — math, writing and reading. School officials are hoping that this year's sophomores will make a better showing now that a passing grade is required to graduate from high school.

When the state Legislature met this year, however, it approved several alternative ways for students to graduate, including portfolios, alternative test scores and a formula involving class grades.

— The Associated Press

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