Graduation testing harms minorities

2000 will mark the first year that high-school students might be denied high-school diplomas for not passing a single test. More than 5,000 potential members of the class of 2000 have not passed either the reading or math tests, or both. If they do not pass the tests this school year, they will not graduate.
It appears Minnesota schools are taking steps to help these students prepare to pass the tests. Many schools are offering remedial teaching in subjects students find difficult. Others offer one-on-one tutoring for individuals having extreme problems.
However, there are still concerns. Minorities in Minnesota have fared much worse on the tests. For instance, black children in Minnesota fail both tests at a rate of almost 80 percent, while white students only show about 30 percent rate of failure. More telling than race, though, is that low-income students show an equally high failure rate as minorities, with 79 percent of low-income students failing the reading test and 74 percent failing math. These scores indicate the major impact poverty can have on children’s ability to learn.
The intent of the high-stakes test is laudable. Legislators and educators are right to ensure that all graduates of Minnesota high schools are able to read and do basic math. At the same time, it is equally important to ensure these tests do not twice punish children for growing up in low-income areas.
The economic background of those failing tests is cause for concern. Schools should certainly continue to offer remedial help for those left behind in earlier grades, but state legislators should strongly consider what can be done to help kids throughout their school years.