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Virginia's soft bigotry
New Virginia standards set goals-by race?

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Date published: 12/13/2012

VIRGINIA's new educational standards vary according to students' race. You heard that right. Is this a shocking example of latter-day bigotry? A necessary accommodation? Or what? Let's consider.

The state developed the standards with the approval of the U.S. Department of Education as part of its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Now, for a Virginia school to achieve an acceptable rating, 45 percent of its black students must pass a standardized math test. But 52 percent of Hispanics, 68 percent of whites, and 82 percent of Asians must clear that bar. In reading, 76 percent of blacks, 80 percent of Hispanics, 90 percent of whites, and 92 percent of Asians must pass.

Why different criteria for different races? "[W]hen it comes to measuring progress," argues Patricia Wright, Virginia's superintendent of public instruction, "we have to consider that students start at different points." The aim of the color-coded standards is to target differences in achievement levels by race and bring everyone up to the same standard within six years. The varying standards are tied to scores achieved by different races--measured in the aggregate--on the state's Standards of Learning. The idea is to use the standards to identify schools that are not closing the achievement gap, and then to provide remediation.

Members of the General Assembly's Black Caucus quickly raised Cain. State Sen. Mamie Locke, leader of the group, wrote Gov. McDonnell, "This 'aim-low' approach is insulting and narrow-minded. As an educator, I am appalled that the commonwealth would put forward such a proposal that categorizes children in a way that hearkens back to Virginia's inglorious past."

To be clear, the differing standards measure the schools' progress more than that of individual students, who must get the same number of questions right to pass regardless of ancestry or where they fall on a Sherwin-Williams color chart. But Ms. Locke and her colleagues are right: "Thinking by race" in education creates big problems.

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