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Black leaders blast NCLB waiver

Published 10:56pm Friday, August 17, 2012

A group of black state legislators with two members representing parts of Suffolk has blasted new lower goals for minorities and other groups under a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

A waiver granted to Virginia in July requires, for example, 45 percent of black students to have met math Standards of Learning benchmarks in 2011-2012, compared with 68 percent for whites and 82 percent for Asians. Before, goals had been the same for all students.

The new requirements are “antithetical” to a viable, strong and equalizing education system, the goals of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Senator Mamie Locke, its chair, wrote Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“This ‘aim-low’ approach is insulting and narrow-minded in its approach to doing what is in the best interests of children,” she wrote.

“As an educator, I am appalled that the Commonwealth would put forward such a proposal that categorizes children in a way that hearkens back to Virginia’s inglorious past.”

Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr. and Sen. Louise Lucas, whose state districts include parts of Suffolk, are both caucus members.

The differentiated goals, the Virginia Department of Education says, plan to halve the performance gap of underperforming student groups, which also include Hispanics, the disabled and economically disadvantaged, and English language-learners, within six years.

Under the plan, called Annual Measurable Objectives, differentiated goals for eight subgroups would be raised in yearly increments until, by 2016-2017, the gap between students in the lowest-performing and highest-performing schools is halved.

According to the method used to calculate the starting benchmarks and yearly increases, in the 2011-2012 math Standards of Learning, blacks in the lowest-performing schools with 20 percent of that subgroup’s statewide subject enrollment scored 43 percent or lower, against 66 percent for whites and 80 percent for Asians.

“Historically we have had subgroups that haven’t performed as well as children in other subgroups,” department spokesman Charles Pyle said. “We have the goal of raising their performance and, in doing so, raising achievement in the state’s lowest-performing schools.”

Chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have also expressed concerns over the new goals in calls to the department, Pyle said.

The department is sending a delegation to an NAACP meeting in Williamsburg to address those concerns, he said, and is keen to address what it perceives as a misunderstanding.

“Presented with this information in isolation, it’s certainly understandable that someone could look at these objectives and have concerns and ask questions,” he said.

In a letter to caucus member Sen. Donald McEachin, state Education Secretary Laura Fornash argued that “all students, regardless of demographic subgroup,” must get the same number of SOL test questions correct to pass and meet the same requirements to graduate.

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