Wednesday, March 10, 1999

School test results questioned

Disabled students excluded

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        By increasing the number of students with disabilities who didn't take a national reading test, state school officials may have caused the state's reading scores to in crease, a Kentucky School Boards Association research analyst said Tuesday.

        The findings of the school boards association's Faurest Coogle call into question gains announced March 4 by Kentucky students on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test.

        Mr. Coogle's math confirms what a state senator, a family advocacy group and a test score watchdog have questioned.

        State education officials disagreed, saying that the exclusion rate is only one part of the picture, and that even if scores of disabled students were included, there is only a difference of 1 test point.

        Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, The Family Foundation, and Dick Innes, a commercial pilot whose hobby is poring over Kentucky educational data, said they have concerns about Kentucky's increase in scores because the number of low-performing students excluded from the exam increased by 150 percent from 1994 to 1998.

        Scores released March 4 showed Kentucky students making gains since the test began in 1992. Scores increased in that time from 213 points to 218 points, on the 500-point test.

        “What this shows is that there is a positive relationship between increasing the percent you exclude and the gain in the scores,” Mr. Coogle said. “I'll leave it to other people to argue whether this relationship matters or not.”

        The test comes to states with national criteria for excluding certain students, but states make the final call. Kentucky's exclusion rate was one of the highest. A look at the tables and statistics for the 1994 and 1998 NAEP reading exams reveals an increase in Kentucky's exclusion rate from 4 percent in 1994 to 10 percent in 1998.

        “Education reform should be helping everybody,” Mrs. Stine said. “When you more than double the number of low scores dropped from the pool, the overall score is bound to increase.”

        Mrs. Stine said she wants the Education Department and the General Assembly's Education Committee to revisit the scores.

        Education Department spokesman Jim Parks said staffers did just that Tuesday.

        “We were aware of this before the scores were released, and we didn't have any reason to believe that it makes a significant difference,” Mr. Parks said. “If you look at a few pieces of information, you can see one picture. If you look at all the pieces, you get a different picture.”

        By Mr. Innes' calculations, a state's change in exclusion rate can correspond to its change in reading score. For example, Louisiana's exclusion rate increased by 7 percent; it's reading score went up 7 test points from 1994 to 1998. Kentucky's exclusion rate went up 6 percent and its reading scores went up 6 test points in the same period.

        Of the states that increased their exclusion rates by five percentage points or more, all raised their test scores by an average of 5.75 test points.

        Arnold Goldstein, a statistician at the National Center for Educational Statistics, the group that scores the NAEP tests, said there were changes in criteria used for excluding students that could cause an increase in the number of students excluded.

        For example, prior to 1996, if a student's ability to take the test was unclear, the student took the exam. After 1996, the rules were clarified so that any student needing a special accommodation to take the test would be excluded.

        Regardless of all the factors, of the 34 states that took the test, 24 showed an increase in the number of students excluded. The national exclusion rate did not change, remaining at 6 percent.

        The exclusion rate, as well as other factors such as class size, demographics and the presence of state testing, are not included when NAEP scores are calculated, Mr. Goldstein said.

        “Our goal is to increase the participation of students of all types in the assessment,” Mr. Goldstein said. “There has been a continuing discussion to consider those factors. But there really is no clean answer to that.”

        And although more students were excluded from the exam in Kentucky, the numbers are still relatively small, Mr. Goldstein said, when they are adjusted for the entire number of students in a state.

        Only two states had higher exclusion rates than Kentucky. Louisiana excluded 13 percent of students; South Carolina left out 12 percent.

        Connecticut, North Carolina and West Virginia matched Kentucky's 10 percent exclusion rate.

        Kent Ostrander, director of Lexington's The Family Foundation, said Kentucky's scores might have actually dropped if the number of students excluded from the test remained at 4 percent.


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