Worries over racial bias of new high school graduation tests

compulsory school graduation tests - now in use across 18 states - could lead to increasing drop-out rates for black and Hispanic students, says a report by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy (CEP).

None of the 18 states sets aside money or other resources to provide special help for students most likely to fail these high stakes tests, CEP said. "As states institute rigorous exit exams, we all hope they will lead to increased student achievement, but there is a risk that they will lead to more drop-outs," said Jack Jennings, director of the centre.

Pass rates are much lower for minority and disadvantaged students. In Massachusetts, blacks and Hispanics were twice as likely as whites to fail the graduation exam.

In Minnesota, 80 per cent of all students passed the reading section of exams on the first try, but only 59 per cent of poor students, 40 per cent of disabled students and 30 per cent of students who speak English as a second language did.

Many states, including California and New York, have delayed using the tests or have lowered the pass scores.

The CEP report said that in addition to providing greater support for students, states should provide alternative routes to high-school graduation - including the use of other tests or assessment of portfolios of schoolwork.

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