Shooting the Messenger

The Education Law Center has a press release out that assails the NJ DOE for “deny[ing] diplomas to unprecedented numbers of seniors on the basis of this year’s Alternative High School Assessment,” the test given to high school seniors after they fail the traditional High School Assessment three times. ELC’s primary complaint:
ELC's analysis of the AHSA test population indicates that English language learners and urban students of color will be disproportionately affected by the imposition of diploma penalties on students who have otherwise met all their course credit and local graduation requirements.
In an accompanying letter to Josephine Hernandez, President of the State Board of Education, ELC presents an analysis that claims that this year’s replacement of the old Special Review Assessment (which no one failed) with the new AHSA (which lots of kids failed) unfairly punishes English Language Learners. Specifically, the new test “effectively restricted or eliminated many the accommodations previously available to these students,” like translated material and extended time to take the tests.

That seems like a legitimate complaint, though it’s unclear to what extent English mastery matters in awarding high school diplomas. Regarding “students of color in poor urban districts,” ELC complains that, “statewide only 18% of students of students attend schools where more than half the population qualifies for free/reduced lunch” but “more than 50% of the April AHSA test takers came from such schools. “

Help us out here. Half the kids who failed the HSPA three times and were required to take the AHSA came from schools largely populated by poor kids. Ergo, claims ELC, these kids are being unfairly targeted by the whims of AHSA scorers. Wouldn’t a more reasonable conclusion be that these poor urban kids of color are attending schools that don’t meet their needs? In other words, it’s not the test that’s the problem. The problem is that the schools aren’t effectively teaching the kids who take the test.

It's not a testing problem. It's a learning problem.

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