Deprived pupils 'penalised' by tests

21st April 2000 at 01:00

Senator leading fight against 'unfair'

graduation rules reveals that he suffered from a learning disability A former teacher is fighting to prevent disadvantaged children being penalised by the "immoral" tests they need to pass to graduate from high school.

Paul Wellstone, now a senator, has co-sponsored legislation which would mean states and school districts receiving federal education funding would be barred from relying on a single test score for student promotion or graduation.

So far, 29 of the 50 states require every student to pass a test to graduate from high school, and several more have plans to do so. Other districts, including those in New York and Chicago, hold low-scoring children back from advancing to the next grade, or require them to go to summer school.

Critics, including civil rights organisations, say it is unfair for states to hold all students to the same high standards until all students are given an equal, high-quality education.

"We cannot close the achievement gap until we close the gap in investment between poor and rich schools," said Senator Wellstone.

"It is simply negligent to force children to pass a test and expect that the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, will be able to do as well as those who have every advantage."

Senator Wellstone disclosed that he himself has a learnng disability and also scored poorly in university and graduate-school entrance examinations.

The senator's comments came just days after a conference in New York brought together 600 of the nation's top education experts. There was broad consensus at the conference that the tests were "educationally indefensible, if not immoral", as Professor Vito Perrone, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said to loud applause.

But Professor Perrone and others at the conference conceded that they faced an uphill battle. "Our opposition is pretty paltry when you see the power that is behind these tests," he said. Monty Neill, director of the National Centre for Fair and Open Testing, agreed, saying the tests had powerful momentum. "By and large, we can't get rid of them," he said.

Parents are, in fact, increasingly expressing their displeasure with the tests. But they are also worried that their children will be held back. "Parents may be concerned about what's happening, but they also want to make sure their children are not among the 320,000 who will have to go to summer school," said Olivia Lynch, a New York City principal.

Senator Wellstone, too, conceded that it would be difficult to find enough support to pass his testing ban. If the legislation fails, however, he will push for an investigation of the impact of the tests on students, he said.

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