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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 10, no. 49 (December 06, 2002).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c December 06, 2002
Failing Georgia : the case against the ban on social promotion / Donald R. Livingston [and] Sharon M. Livingston.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
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1 of 32 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 10 Number 49December 6, 2002ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2002, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES .Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. EPAA is a project of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .Failing Georgia: The Case Against the Ban on Social Promotion Donald R. Livingston LaGrange College Sharon M. Livingston Georgia State UniversityCitation: Livingston, D., Livingston, S. (2002, Dec ember 6). Failing Georgia: The Case Against the Ban on Social Promotion, Education Policy Analysis Archives 10 (49). Retrieved [date] from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n49/.AbstractOur analysis begins with an examination of the stat e of Georgia's rationale for the decision regarding social promoti on that was based on the perceived views that teachers have on the issue Research suggests, however, that teachers hold contradictory opinions concerning the use of standardized tests for high stakes decisions, such as promotion, and are not aware of the consequences most children suffer when they fail a grade. Following a discussion that challenges the c laims of success in Chicago, Baltimore, and Texas, we explore the viabi lity of choosing
2 of 32litigation as a strategy to stop the use of high st akes tests given the adverse impact they have on protected minorities. F rom a study of the thirty-nine poorest counties in rural Georgia, the relationships between poverty, race and the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test Results suggest that these tests do have an enormou sly disparate impact on impoverished African American children. Because chances for educational attainment will be severely limited by this test, most African American children will be discouraged from achievin g a high school diploma. As a way to put a face on the data, a case study of a young girl who would probably fail her grade in school if the law was enforced is presented followed by recommendations that argue fo r changes in education policy and teaching. Rather than mandate a ban on social promotion, the state of Georgia should pursue impro vement of socio-economic conditions, education policy and ped agogy. For many, it is simple common sense to fail a child who does not pass the academic requirements for promotion to the next grade. For o thers, making children accountable for their academic performance is part of an overal l strategy to raise the quality of education. Responding to the public and political c all for educational reform and accountability, Georgia and Texas, Baltimore and Ch icago along with many other school districts have decided to end the practice of socia l promotion in hopes of improving the quality of education (Eisner, 2000)Defining social promotion is somewhat difficult bec ause the meaning behind the practice has become so infused with professional, p olitical and academic agendas that it seems impossible to reach common ground. On one sid e are those who deride the practice as promoting a student from one grade to t he next regardless of academic achievement; they claim that this is a policy that short-changes the child, teacher, school and society (DiMaria, 1999). On the other side of t he debate are those who point to the abundance of research that overwhelmingly suggests that keeping a child with his or her peer group is the best insurance for high school gr aduation (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Countering this plethora of research is the assumpt ion that a high school diploma has little value if the student is simply passed along and given a degree without meeting specific criteria for graduation (Eisner, 2000). As evidence of the rift in the stakeholders' views, the two major teacher organizations cannot a gree on the subject. The more conservative American Federation of Teachers (AFT) shudders at the thought that school districts ignore policies and laws that ban the practice of social promotion by stating that this rampant disregard creates a huge class of ill-prepared and unmotivated students (AFT, 2001). While conceding that social p romotion without intervention is deleterious to a learner, the National Education As sociation (NEA) is on record as stating that retaining students is even more pernic ious (NEA, 2001).Examining Georgia's Decision to End Social Promotio nAs a top priority for his education reform agenda, Governor Roy Barnes urged the legislature to end social promotion during the Stat e of the State address in February 2001. Governor Barnes proclaimed, "the time has com e to end social promotion in our schools" (Barnes, 2001). Reasoning that social prom otion is unfair to teachers, Governor Barnes charged the legislature with passing a bill that would require every student to pass an exit examination before being promoted to t he next grade (Barnes, 2001). Using
3 of 32the rationale that schools and teachers are held ac countable for competency, the Governor insisted that no student be promoted to th e next grade level until proficiency in the subject matter has been assessed with a criteri on based standardized test (Barnes, 2001). In Governor Barnes' words, Now, nobody wants to have to hold a child back in s chool. It is difficult for them to be separated from their peers. But if some children are still behind even after we have taken every step available to gi ve them extra help--after school programs, alternative programs, special read ing programs and so on--we owe it to them to make this difficult choice ... But mostly, we should do it in fairness to those students who are passing through our system today without learning what they need to kno w. By promoting a child who is not really ready, we say, 'It's OK if you don't learn.' Well, I say, it is not okay (Barnes, 2001). On March 21, 2001, the legislature of Georgia compl ied with the wishes of the Governor by passing into law a bill which mandated that stud ents in grades third, fifth, and eighth must pass a standardized examination to move up to the next grade, beginning with third graders in 2004. Children who enter third grade in 2003 would be required to pass a state reading test, while those matriculating the fifth g rade in 2004 and eighth grade in 2005 would be required to pass both a state reading and mathematics exit examination (State Board of Education [SBOE], 2001). A second chance to pass the test is allowed if the child fails to pass the test on the first attempt. If the child should fail a second time, a grade placement committee is convened "composed of the principal or the principal's desig nee, the student's parent or guardian, and the teacher of the subject of a test on which t he student failed to perform satisfactorily" (SBOE, 2001). It is the initial cha rge of the grade placement committee to provide some sort of accelerated instruction to pre pare the child for the third test. After three attempts, the official code directs the schoo l to retain the student. At this point in the process, the parent(s) or legal guardian may ap peal to the grade placement committee to permit the child to move up to the next grade le vel. Citing from Official Code 20-2-283, "The grade placement committee may decide in favor of a student's promotion only if the committee concludes, using standards ad opted by the local board of education, that if promoted and given accelerated i nstruction, the student is likely to perform at grade level. A student may not be promot ed on the basis of the grade placement committee's decision unless that decision is unanimous" (SBOE, 2001).Teachers Views on Social PromotionGovernor Barnes' contention that teachers are criti cal of social promotion may have some credibility when the research is examined. Tom chin and Impara (1992) published a study showing eighty-two percent of elementary scho ol teachers believed that retention helps children prevent future failure and seventy p ercent thought that the threat of failure motivates children to succeed. A whopping ninety-ei ght percent stated that they would never rule out the decision to fail a child (Tomchi n & Impara, 1992). DiMaria (1999), in a study of New York City teachers, found similar re sults. In this 1999 study, sixty percent of teachers felt that students should never be socially promoted with thirty percent reporting that the primary grades were the best times to retain in grade.
4 of 32Clearly, an overwhelming majority of teachers feel that social promotion frustrates children by burdening them with schoolwork that is too advanced for them to comprehend. Teachers believe that this burden is an imposition, one that makes teaching much more difficult because it forces them to deal with the under-prepared while trying to teach those who are prepared (Thompson & Cunning ham, 2000). The prevailing view of teachers is that instruction is easier and more effective when variability of academic competence within the class is reduced (Foster, 199 3). Both of the teacher assumptions about student and t eacher frustration, however, are not borne out by the educational research. It may be th at teachers are not aware of the preponderance of retention research as evidenced by their reliance on anecdotal accounts from colleagues. Anecdotal reports by teachers ofte n suggest that children benefit from retention, yet because of the decision to retain, t here is no opportunity to see how well the children might have progressed had they been pr omoted (NAECS, 2000). Mary Lee Smith wrote in Flunking Grades that teache rs tend to access practical knowledge rather than formal knowledge. Practical k nowledge is the sort of knowing that begins with personal experiences followed by f uture action based on these personal experiences. For example, one teacher remarked in S mith's study, "when my own son was retained, it was because he was too young for h is age, and the next year he was a real leader in his class, and we never regretted th at decision; and ever since then I have recommended that parents of young children in my cl ass take the same step" (Smith, 1989, p. 133)Based on clinical interviews, Smith suggested that the educational philosophies of teachers fall into distinct categories and that the se beliefs are directly related to their opinions on retention. One category Smith identifie d was designated Nativists, teachers who believe that the physiological maturation of ab ility develops over time in stages. Predictably, Nativist teachers feel that children s hould not be exposed to developmentally inappropriate instruction. If a tea cher was not a Nativist, Smith found that teachers could be grouped in three additional ways. 1) Remediationists are teachers who are active instructional and resource managers, 2) Diagnostic Prescriptors believe that deficiencies, such as auditory memory and visu al-motor problems, can be corrected when identified with specific instruction and 3) In teractionists, teachers who feel that successful teaching begins with the prior knowledge and interests that the child possesses (Smith, 1989).Smith found that the most likely to retain are Nati vists because they are prone to see physical size and chronological age as reasons to h old children back. This is somewhat of a confounding finding given that Nativists' beli efs are congruent with some widely held theories of child development (Smith, 1989). W hile Nativists are more likely to retain students than the others, all teachers agree d in Smith's study that retention is beneficial both in the short as well as the long te rm. Through her interviews Smith recorded anecdotes such as the yearning to put the child at the top of the class and many claims to the effect that there are no stigmas atta ched to retention if the teacher and parents handle it well. Often Smith heard about the disasters that occurred when children are socially promoted and very few teachers named a ny negative effects of retention. All stated that it is best to err on the side of retent ion and if any harm was done, its effects are temporary. Perhaps the most disturbing finding Smith reported is that teachers often discounted the child's feelings of disappointment, failure and confusion or reluctantly
5 of 32acknowledged that if any emotional harm was done, t he positives far outweigh the negatives. No one in Smith's research responded tha t social promotion was beneficial. Smith suggested that instructional efficiency pre-e mpts the child's best interest when she concluded, "The teacher is a self-interested theore tician. Though couched in the rhetoric of pupil benefits, her beliefs about retention are, perhaps unconsciously, conditioned by a wish for a more homogeneous and trouble free clas s" (Smith, 1989, p. 149).Contradictions Between Research and PracticeA preponderance of control-group studies, structure d to measure the comparison between retained students and students recommended for retention but promoted anyway, come down clearly on the side of promotion. What these studies show is that students who are recommended for retention, but are nonetheless promoted to the next grade, end up doing just as well as or, in many cas es, perform better academically than non-promoted peers (Foster, 1993; NAECS, 2000).While school performance is usually the focus of th e debate, the most pernicious effect of retention is that the decision to fail a child u sually results in dire social consequences. Children who have been retained demonstrate more so cial regression, display more behavior problems, suffer retention-related stress, and more frequently drop out of high school. (Grissom & Shepard, 1989; Frymier, 1997; NA ECS, 2000). While it may seem unfair to some, keeping a child w ith his or her peer group is the best decision almost all of the time. When grade retenti on is used as a solution for poor performance, it is assumed that the problem resides in the child's learning ability. But, this is rarely the case (Darling-Hammond, 1998; Fry mier, 1997). Shedding light on why children do not do well in sc hool, studies show that the reasons for poor performance usually stem from non-academic factors such as a seriously ill parent or the death of a sibling or maybe a parent lost his or her job last year (Frymier, 1997). In addition, many students who failed a grad e had been in an accident or were seriously ill during the year (Frymier, 1997). Now that the 2000 census has been published, data show that many non-English speaking children have become part of our schools (U.S. Census, 2001). Research tells us that if English is not spoken at home, a child is twice as likely to be retained during his or her schooling (Foster, 1993). Another suggestive statistic is that over half of the stude nts who were retained in grade came from a broken home where moving from town to town w as a frequent experience (Frymier, 1997). Concomitant with these factors is what research has coined as "retention bias," a tendency to retain a higher pro portion of males, those with small physical stature, poor children and minority studen ts (Foster, 1993; Frymier, 1997; Miller, 2001).Because repeating a grade is a highly visible act, one that separates a student from his age peers, what is most disturbing about failing a child is what happens to them afterwards. Rather than accepting failure, children perceive the decision to repeat a grade as a punishment for something out of their control, a perception that discourages them from completing school (Foster, 1993). It is well d ocumented that students who are held back do worse in the long run compared to students who are promoted, in part because they give up on themselves as learners (Denton, 200 1). Even small children perceive that failing a grade is a serious social stigma. Stigmat izing children lowers their self-esteem,
6 of 32a psychological albatross that often results in a t een pregnancy or drug and alcohol use later on (Darling-Hammond, 1998; Foster, 1993). A r eview of sixty-six studies conducted between 1990 and 1997 found that sixty-fi ve of them showed retention to be ineffective or harmful (Denton, 2001). In another 1 997 study of twenty-three risk factors for school failure, students who fail a grade have many more problems, in every risk area, than those students who were promoted to stay with their peers (Denton, 2001; Frymier, 1997; Owens & Magliaro, 1998).Standardized Tests and Consequences of FailureIn preparation for the implementation of the legisl ation that bans the practice of social promotion, the state of Georgia has administered fo r the second year a Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), commonly referre d to as the State Curriculum Test, as a way to determine how many children might be retained in grade. While some reading scores have improved on average, about twen ty-five percent of fourth, sixth and eighth grade children flunked the test (Georgia Dep artment of Education, 2001). Looking at the best results, eighteen percent of fo urth grade students failed the reading component. In the worst performing category, fortyone percent of eighth grade children failed to achieve a passing grade in mathematics (G eorgia Department of Education, 2001). What is alarming is that, beginning in 2003, promotion to the next grade will be based on the results of this test, meaning that one in five, maybe more, students will be retained in grade. While there is some clamoring to revise the CRCT so that more students will pass, using a standardized test to ma ke the critical decision to pass or fail a student has questionable validity (Salzer, 2001). T he technical complexity of performance-based standardized tests, coupled with the fact that performance based tests are relatively new assessment and evaluation techni ques, means that tests like the CRCT require constant revision in their early stages (El more, Abelman & Furhman, 1996). These changes are evidence that there are fundament al flaws in performance based tests, changes that result in improvement in some 2001 CRC T scores over 2000 CRCT scores. Even though the practice of standardized testing is hard pressed to show that it can produce real gains in student learning, state polic ymakers count on test revisions to improve scores. With standardized testing, research ers have found that scores will initially be low and then rise for several years be fore leveling off. This upward trend caused by the "saw tooth effect" is due to teacherled test preparation rather than to student achievement (Miller, 2001). Predictably, po licymakers tout the spike in test scores, usually within the second year of test intr oduction, as proof that accountability measures are working.While it is likely that the scores will get better because of this tinkering with the testing techniques and test preparation of students, there is no reliable evidence which suggests that performance-based tests will ever be perfected Because the primary purpose of a standardized test is to gather data from a very lar ge group of test takers as a way to evaluate if the overall curriculum needs to be impr oved, the CRCT should never be used to make a decision that affects an individual stude nt (Miller, 2001). It is very important to note that a standardized test score does not rel iably measure what an individual child actually knows because children are not consistent test takers. Even if the test was administered several times, the problem remains: sn apshots cannot show a child's full range of capabilities (Kohn, 2000; Miller, 2001).
7 of 32Challenging the Claims of Success in Chicago, Balti more, and Texas.With over fifty years of research showing that grad e level retention provides no academic advantages to students, the practice of re tention persists and is on the rise nationwide (Owings & Magliaro, 1998). The Consortiu m for Policy Research in Education (1990) reported that by the ninth grade, approximately fifty percent of all U.S. school students have been retained. If the goal of retention is to allow students more time to develop adequate academic skills so that th ey will be successful in subsequent years, why do the follow-up data on implemented pro grams throughout the United States show evidence to the contrary?Beginning in 1996, the Chicago public schools promo ted only third, sixth, and eight graders who obtained the minimum score on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Initial studies purporting to show the success of Chicago's program revealed that students, especially those with the lowest prior test scores, showed imp ressive gains after a full year of intervention and intensive summer instruction. Howe ver, follow-up studies revealed that learning gains dissipated after three years resulti ng in an increased likelihood of school drop out (Thompson & Cunningham, 2000; Denton, 2001 ; Holmes, 1989). In Baltimore, a similar story unfolded; a study conducted at John s Hopkins University found that the performance of students retained during elementary school did improve modestly during the year they repeated and for several years therea fter (Denton, 2001). Again, follow-up studies revealed that initial gains faded, with six ty-five percent of the retained students dropping out of school as compared to eighteen perc ent of all other students. For students who were held back more than once, the dro p out rate soared to ninety-four percent (Denton, 2001). What unfolds as one examine s the research is that retained children are, on average, worse off than those who are socially promoted (Holmes, 1989; Shepard et al., 1996).As for the Texas model, the study claiming success had serious methodological shortcomings that limit its validity (Denton, 2001) Texas researchers reported in a 1999 study that the performance of retained third grader s improved over those students who failed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test but were promoted to the next grade. The validity of the test comes into question due to the large disparity between the number of students who were retained (400 students) and the number who were promoted (35,000 students). The 400 students, one p ercent of the total, represented the extreme low end of the range of test scores, so any subsequent test scores had no place to go but up, a statistical phenomenon known as "re gression to the mean." In addition to the test reporting flaws, Texas policymakers have a lso manipulated students to give the illusion of increased test scores. As reported by H aney (2000), school officials exclude poor test takers from the tenth grade TAAS by eithe r retaining them in the ninth grade, classifying them as learning disabled, or encouragi ng them to leave school and pursue the GED. By employing these tactics, Texas schools can report apparent test score increases for the tenth grade students.A Snowball's Chance in Georgia: the viability of ch oosing litigation as a strategy to stop the use of high stakes tests to determine promotion or retention.Except for the mountains in the northern part of th e state, it doesn't snow very often in
8 of 32Georgia and, when it does, chances are that the fro zen precipitation will not last very long. A snowball's chance in Georgia has the life e xpectancy of a fruit fly, about a day. The same analogy holds true for using the courts to overturn the legislature's decision to use the CRCT to determine promotion and retention. While some cases across the nation have been won on the local level, almost all have b een overturned at the appellate level, meaning that victory in the courts is short-lived. Appellate courts have overturned challenges based on two cases, United States v. For dice in 1992 and Personnel Administrator v. Feeney in1979. Basically, these tw o cases frame the issue by deciding that "Placement testing, exit examinations, and ach ievement tests may be used to assist in the determination of classroom assignments and e ligibility for graduation, provided that the test results are not a reflection of past racial segregation policies, the testing is accurate, and the results are open to public scruti ny" (Deskbook Encyclopedia of American School Law, 2002, p. 489). Because the Equ al Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids schools from engaging in intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or sex the first legal litmus test is whether or not a test perpetuates or preserves illegal discriminat ion. What the courts deemed important in Larry P. v. Riles in1984 is that the State Depar tment of Education had to foresee that the test would have a significant disproportionate impact by race. Second, the department of education has to have failed to show the validity of the test for minority children. Also, the test must cause a stigma and ir reparable injury to the student. Moreover, Larry P. v. Riles demands proof that fail ing the test will result in effective educational opportunities for the child. (Heubert & Hauser, 1999). While the courts have recognized that high stakes t ests have an adverse effect on minority children, they consistently reject the arg ument that these injuries are caused intentionally by the state. Instead, courts find th at the state has a substantial governmental interest in education and that high st akes tests are a legitimate way to hold students accountable (Heubert & Hauser, 1999). Even when presented with clear accounts of racial bias, courts have refused to fin d that high stakes tests violate Title VI saying that they do not intentionally effect a part icular race in an adverse manner (Heubert & Hauser, 1999; Deskbook Encyclopedia of A merican School Law, 2002). The Supreme Court forbids any practice that, while appe aring to be a fair, perpetuates or promotes the effects of prior illegal segregation. This may mean that it is unlawful for any child who has attended an illegally segregated school at anytime in her/his schooling may not be subjected to a high stakes test designed for promotion or retention. It is rare today that a child has attended such a school, yet it opens the possibility that the courts could scrutinize a test more closely if a state or school district has had a recent history of segregation or intentional discrimination (Heubert & Hauser, 1999). The courts have almost uniformly dismissed claims o f intentional discrimination and have steadfastly upheld that high stakes tests are rationally related to legitimate state interests (Deskbook Encyclopedia of American School Law, 2002). While there is an abundance of research that shows that retention has deleterious effects, such as low self-esteem, negative attitudes toward school and a reduced chance at succeeding at school, the courts dismiss such reaso ning as speculative. This view, that educational research is mere speculation, was evide nced through the case Erik v. by and through Catherine V.v. Causby North Carolina in 199 7, a decision that upheld a school board's decision to fail children based on a standa rdized test by rejecting the argument that students suffer irreparable harm when retained in grade because any potential harm
9 of 32is based solely on speculation. In stark contrast t o the educational research, the court rationalized the situation completely oppositely sa ying that because retention gives a child more time in school to catch up, the state is doing its job by providing more resources to those who need them (Deskbook Encyclop edia of American School Law, 2002).Texas courts also viewed retention as a part of a r emediation benefit in the case, GI Forum v. Texas Education Agency in 2000. In this ca se, retention was affirmed as a part of a larger remediation process that provided those students who failed any portion of the exam with extra instruction intended to help th em overcome their deficiencies. The court accepted the State's position that school acc ountability and mandated remediation helped to address the effects of prior discriminati on in Texas because the exam provided the state with an objective way to assess student m astery of the skills and knowledge. When the issue of racial and cultural bias was rais ed, the court ruled that the exam was not fundamentally unfair to minority students becau se it measured what it claimed to measure and what was tested was taught. Because the test was aligned with the curriculum, the court decided that it was a valid t est that met accepted standards (Deskbook Encyclopedia of American School Law, 2002 ). What the states are relying upon in court is a cons ervative legal viewpoint that legitimizes high stakes testing for promotion so lo ng as the tests comply with generally accepted standards for its use. These generally acc epted standards have two central principles: 1.) a test score, like any other source of information about a student, is subject to error. Therefore, high stakes decisions like promotion should not be made automatically on the basis of a single test score ( Shepard &Smith 1987; Darling Hammond & Falk, 1995) and 2.) a student's test scor e on a test should be used only in conjunction with other information sources in makin g such an important decisions as promotion to the next grade (Heubert & Hauser, 1999 p. 126). The state is clearly skating on thin ice here given that the generally a ccepted practice standards among psychometricians do not support the use of standard ized tests as stand alone instruments to determine grade level promotion. Take for instan ce, it is generally accepted practice to supplement test scores with other assessment measur es such as those performed by the teacher in the classroom (Heubert & Hauser, 1999; A ERA, 1985, 1998; Joint Committee on Testing Practices, 1988). Moreover, there is leg al precedence that could disrupt the states' position demonstrated by the decision made in the United States v. Fordice in1992, a ruling that rejected the use of one test score for placement decisions (Heubert & Hauser, 1999).A legal strategy that offers a glimmer of hope rest s on the concept of disproportionality. What must be proven is that grade retention is disp roportionate among protected minority groups when compared to whites and that th is disproportionality will decrease if equally reliable alternative assessments are use d (Heubert & Hauser, 1999). It is well documented that grade retention is disproportionate among blacks/hispanics when compared to whites by a margin of 2:1 (Heubert & Ha user, 1999). The data shows that by ages 10-11, ten percent more blacks and Hispanic s are retained; by ages 15-17, forty to fifty percent more are retained and when student s reach 15-17 years old fifty percent of blacks have fallen behind (Heubert & Hauser, 199 9). There is a possibility that if the citizens of Georgia used disproportionality as a st rategy, the state's decision to use the CRCT could be ruptured when it is shown that those adversely affected are disproportionately protected minorities. Yet, any e xuberance must be tempered with a
10 of 32good dose of healthy cynicism.In Texas, where the TAAS examination is used to det ermine promotion and retention, groups representing Texas minority students sued th e state with the claim that the criterion referenced test discriminated against min ority students in violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. What plaintif fs must show is that there is a preponderance of evidence that the policy of high s takes testing disproportionately has an adverse impact on a protected group, but this is not easy to determine. To prove adverse impact, proof must be presented via a study of the entire pool of test-takers that the success rate for members of a protected class i s significantly lower than if a random sample was examined (Deskbook Encyclopedia of Ameri can School Law, 2002). Fortuitously for the children of rural declining Ge orgia, there is data available that has been compiled by the University of Georgia Departme nt of Housing and Consumer Economics (2002) along with the State of Georgia's Office of Education Accountability (2002) that meets the requirement for a study of th e entire pool of test-takers showing that the success rate for members of a protected cl ass is significantly lower than if a random sample was examined.Who Gets Hurt the Most: Relationships Between Pover ty, Race and the Criterion Referenced Competency Test Results fr om Rural Declining Georgia.As a way to illuminate just how pernicious a law su ch as this will be to the poorest among us, we have conducted a study of school syste ms in the thirty-nine counties categorized as "declining rural counties" in Georgi a, commonly referred to as the "black belt", so named because of the large number of Afri can Americans who reside in them. Our methodology compared county by county demograph ic data compiled by the University of Georgia Department of Housing and Con sumer Economics (University of Georgia Department of Housing and Consumer Economic s, 2002) with the State of Georgia's Office of Education Accountability's (Sta te of Georgia's Office of Education Accountability, 2002) statistics for each district. Because there is compelling evidence that family background is the primary determinate f or school achievement (Shepard & Smith, 1989; Elmore, Abelman & Furhman, 1996; Clotf elter & Ladd, 1996), our study includes an analysis of eight socio-economic catego ries; 1) percentage of population that is African American, 2) per capita income, 3) child ren in poverty, 4) African Americans in poverty, 5) female headed families in poverty, 6 ) un-wed births, 7) percentage of population without a high school diploma, and 8) pe rcentage of African Americans without a high school diploma. Given that family ba ckground is such an important predictor of success, it is critical to supplement the school lunch index, the common statistic used to determine poverty in schools, wit h multiple economic and cultural measures.When we first embarked on this study, two objective s were foremost: 1) compare the data gathered from these thirty-nine rural declinin g counties with statewide data; 2) present descriptive statistics that illuminate the relationship between CRCT scores and multiple socio-economic data. But, after we looked closer at the numbers, we discovered that in many of these counties, the school district data did not match up with countywide data. After comparing the county population demogra phics with the school systems data, it became apparent that many of these school system s have a discernable racial
11 of 32 imbalance. Because this discovery suggests that rac e will matter in the decision to fail a child in Georgia, this research was expanded to inc lude a discussion about the future of the rural African American community once the CRTC is implemented. These thirty-nine counties form a constellation of poverty that slashes through the southern region of the state of Georgia. Forming co ntiguous pockets of counties in rural decline, the constellation extends in a chain from the far southwest corner to the eastern part of the state. As a way to boost the clarity of the research, we have chosen to present this data through a geographic journey whose starti ng point begins in the most concentrated area of poverty in southwest Georgia. Traveling across the state, this study will explore those counties that make up the belt b uckle, a band that traverses along the mid-section of the state from west to east, followe d by a discussion of those counties that are located in the east.Southwest Rural Declining CountiesThese twelve counties are found huddled along the A labama and Florida border in the farthest southwest corner of the State of Georgia f ramed by the Chattahooche River to the west, Albany, Georgia as the closest city to th e east and Columbus, Georgia to the north. There are no major roads cutting through nor are there towns of any substantial population. While there may never be an occasion fo r many travelers to ever pay the folks here a visit, these twelve counties are home to 92,400 Georgians, of which, 14,080 are children in the public school system. Table 1 Southwest Rural Declining Counties SES Data Compared to Georgia State SES Data SES AttributesRange in Southwest Rural Declining County Data State Data Population African American47.0% to 61.5%28.0%1999 Per Capita Income$16,153 to $22,270$27,3241997 Children in Poverty27.2% to 47.4%21.8%1989 African American in Poverty33.7% to 53.0%30.3%1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 34.0% to 70.2%34.3% 1999 Unwed Births42.9% to 65.9%36.6%No High School Diploma46.4% to 60.9%29.1%African American No High School Diploma 56.6% to 70.6%41.4% As Table 1 shows, these twelve counties have two to three times more African American citizens than the rest of the state, most of whom l ive in poverty. Because school children here are likely to be poor and living in a househol d headed by an unwed mother who dropped out of school, the prospect for academic su ccess is bleak. With up to seventy percent of the African American population lacking a high school degree, academic role models are hard to come by. When Table 2 is examine d, it becomes apparent that all of
12 of 32 these counties have reported similar socio-economic data. Table 2 Southwest Georgia Counties in Rural Decline Socio-E conomic StatusCountyPop. African American 1999 Per Capita Income 1997 Children in Poverty 1989 African American in Poverty 1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 1999 Unwed Births No High School Diploma African American No High School Diploma Baker 50.4%$20,94035.7%35.0%41.1%41.7%46.4%56.6% Calhoun 60.6%$21,64639.9%46.0%48.4%55.2%58.1%58.1% Clay 60.5%$17,08246.9%50.6%52.3%57.8%48.6%63.4% Early 48.1%$21,11542.2%51.5%61.7%57.0%45.9%62.4% Miller 28.9%$22,27034.8%37.2%41.2%52.8%42.6%63.6% Mitchell 47.9%$21,39235.8%45.3%53.8%57.0%45.1%63.5% Quitman 46.9%$18,22347.4%52.3%70.2%63.6%50.5%68.8% Randolph 59.5%$18,29843.3%53.0%55.8%57.3%50.7%64.6% Seminole 34.7%$19,24739.3%47.5%48.5%49.7%48.6%60.9% Stewart 61.5%$18,74438.0%45.2%56.4%48.6%60.9%70.6% Terrell 60.7%$16,15338.7%42.4%51.1%65.9%47.6%65.3% Webster 47.0%$20,72827.2%33.7%34.0%42.9%49.6%65.2% State 28.0%$27,32421.8%30.3%34.3%36.6%29.1%41.4%A child attending school in these counties would ha ve a one in three, at best a one in five, chance of passing the the third grade to the fourth grade once the CRCT decides his or her fate, a probability much worse than the rest of the state (Table 3). Passing on to the sixth grade will be even more dif ficult, given that your odds are about 50/50 that you will pass the CRCT. While the scores statewide are improving in the sixth grade CRCT, school's scores are getting worse ever widening the gap between rich and poor. If a child is so fortunate as to make it to the eighth grade in 2006, chances are better than even that he or she will not go to high school the next year because they failed the mathematics portion of the CRCT. As for comparing their school to the rest of the state (Tables 3 & 4), their school is in a free falling spiral, dropping significantly behind an abysmal statewide percentage of failing s tudents. Table 3 Southwest Georgia Rural Declining Counties Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Southwest Counties 32%31%50% Statewide 26%26%38% Percent Change +23%+19%+32% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s
13 of 32 Southwest Counties 37%47%46% Statewide 24%36%31% Percent Change +54%+31%+48% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Southwest Counties 30%44%56% Statewide 18%32%41% Percent Change +67%+38%+37% Table 4 African American Southwest Georgia Rural Declining Counties Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Southwest Counties 37%35%57% African American Statewide 37%34%52% Percent Change 0+3%+10 Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Southwest Counties 38%47%50% African American Statewide 35%49%45% Percent Change +9%-4%+11% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Southwest Counties 36%51%64% African American Statewide 27%45%58% Percent Change +33%+13%+10% With the exception of one of the twelve counties, W ebster County, the racial balance of the schools when compared to the general population is egregiously disproportional. Calhoun County's population is sixty percent Africa n American, yet Calhoun County Schools have too few whites to report, meaning that forty percent of the white children in Calhoun County attend private schools or are hom e-schooled. Sixty percent of the fourth graders, forty-four percent of the sixth gra ders and sixty percent of the eighth
14 of 32 graders in Calhoun County failed at least one CRCT content area test. Terrell County is the same story, only worse. Terre ll is also sixty percent African American with no significant white representation i n the schools. Having the lowest per capita income of around $16,000, Terrell County wil l face the fact that sixty-two percent of the fourth graders, sixty percent of the sixth g raders and sixty-eight percent of the eighth graders will fail their respective grades.Quitman County, where forty-six percent of the popu lation is African American, has no whites attending the one elementary public school t here. In Quitman County, teachers and principals will face the daunting responsibilit y for carrying out the failure sentence for eighty-one percent of the fourth grade class an d sixty-five percent of the sixth grade. The same situation obtains in Randolph County, with ninety-three percent of their children on the free lunch program; teachers and pr incipals there will be forced to fail sixty percent of the fourth, sixth and eighth grade students. While Clay County CRCT scores are not as low as the others, this all Afric an American school system, with a per capita income of $17,000 and sixty-five percent of African Americans in the county without a high school degree, will fail twenty-nine percent in the fourth grade, fifty-five percent in the sixth grade and because forty-eight percent of the eighth grade did not meet the mathematics standards of the CRCT, they to o, will fail. The remaining schools in the counties, Baker, Early, Miller, Mitchell, Se minole and Stewart, are also disproportionately African American when compared t o the general population. Most of the schools in these counties are two-thirds Africa n American with county data showing a range of one-third to one-half of the population as African American.Mid-State Rural Declining CountiesFourteen counties form a contiguous swath of land b eginning in Talbot County, situated between Columbus and Macon Georgia, southward along Interstate 75 to the Florida border, where Clinch and Ware Counties envelope the great Okeefenokee Swamp. These mid-state counties are home for 168,276 Georgians, 28,854 of whom are children in the public schools.Table 5 paints a picture of economic and social cri sis with data that shows per capita income well below the state average, resulting in s ignificantly more children in poverty. As with the southwestern counties, school children in the mid-state counties are likely to have a parent who is a poor, unwed African American mother without a high school diploma. Table 5 Mid-State Rural Declining Counties SES Data Compared to State SES AttributesRange in Midstate Rural Declining County Data State Data Pop. African American 24.6% to 61.6%28% 1999 Per Capita Income $15,585 to $23,202$27,324 1997 Children in Poverty 26.7% to 38.9%21.8%
15 of 32 1989 African American in Poverty 34.7% to 57.8%30.3% 1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 37% to 64.7%34.3% 1999 Unwed Births 37.7% to 62.7%36.6% No High school Diploma 39.4% to 53.8%29.1% African American No High School Diploma 54% to 69.8%41.4% When each county is examined separately in Table 6, the relationship between race, poverty and educational attainment becomes clearer. Dooley, Macon, and Talbot, counties with the largest African American populati ons are the poorest; while Bleckley, Irwin, and Pulaski counties, with many fewer Africa n Americans, are better off. These data suggest that this economic divide persists bec ause of the lack of educational attainment among African Americans. When the column "African American No High School" is examined in Table 6, the data describe a population that has, for the most part, found it difficult to graduate from high scho ol. Ten of these fourteen counties have anywhere from sixty to seventy percent of the Afric an American population without a high school degree; the remaining four counties hav e fifty to sixty percent without a diploma. Table 6 Mid-State Counties in Rural Decline Socio-Economic StatusCountyPop. African Am. 1999 Per Capita Income 1997 Children in Poverty 1989 African Am. in Poverty 1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 1999 Unwed Births No High school Diploma African Am. No High School Diploma Bleckley 24.6%$21,77126.7%42.0%37.0%41.8%39.7%66.7% Clinch 29.5%$18,37932.9%40.9%53.6%49.5%53.8%62.6% Cook 29.1%$18,27630.4%39.2%42.7%37.7%44.8%54.0% Dooley 49.5%$18,69037.0%50.9%55.6%54.1%45.3%60.1% Irwin 25.9%$20,83229.8%47.9%50.3%40.0%46.9%62.4% Lanier 25.6%$17,67534.1%34.4%54.2%39.0%48.8%62.1% Macon 59.5%$19,92737.1%39.8%49.3%62.7%46.3%57.3% Pulaski 34.3%$23,20229.5%48.5%50.1%53.9%39.4%64.2% Taylor 42.6%$18,77438.2%49.0%57.6%47.7%48.8%69.8% Telfair 38.4%$18,47735.2%41.2%49.9%45.3%47.9%65.7% Turner 41.0%$17,83138.6%57.8%64.7%53.5%44.7%64.3% Talbot 61.6%$15,38534.1%34.7%46.4%48.8%43.8%58.2% Ware 28.0%$19,73833.7%42.5%41.7%45.2%38.9%51.4% Wilcox 36.2%$19,83438.9%56.2%61.4%51.2%47.2%69.6% State 28.0%$27,32421.8%30.3%34.3%36.6%29.1%41.4%The socio-economic divide between Whites and Africa n Americans in the declining rural counties of Georgia will surely be exacerbate d through the implementation of the CRCT mandates. Because of retention in the third, f ifth and eighth grades, African American children will be systematically encouraged eventually to drop out of school,
16 of 32 resulting in the inability to command wages that mi ght lift them out of poverty. Supporting the assumption that income is proportion al to test scores, Tables 6 & 7 suggest that there is a relationship between CRCT t est scores and the income earned by African Americans. When Mid-State African American CRCT scores are compared to statewide figures, the data show that poorer Africa n Americans living in rural declining counties do worse than those African Americans who live in counties with higher income levels. Further, there is evidence that Afri can American students who live in places where more of the African American populatio n has earned a high school diploma do better on the CRCT than counties with le ss educational attainment. Table 7 African American Mid-State Georgia Rural Declining Counties Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s African American Mid-State Counties48%44%61%African American Statewide 37%34%52% Percent Change +30%+29%+17% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Mid-State Counties 49%59%48% African American Statewide 35%49%45% Percent Change +40%+20%+7% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Mid-State Counties 34%49%64% African American Statewide Counties 27%45%58% Percent Change +26%+9%+10% The poverty to failure equation is repeated in Tabl e 8 when the aggregate Mid-State CRCT scores show much lower results than the statew ide data. Table 8 Mid-State Rural Declining Counties Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content Area ReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematics Mid-State Counties36%33%45%
17 of 32 Statewide 26%26%38% Percent Change +36%+27%+18% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content Area ReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematics Mid-State Counties 33%46%34% Statewide 24%36%31% Percent Change +37%+28%+10% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Mid-State Counties 25%39%48% Statewide 18%32%41% Percent Change +39%+22%+17%Eastern Georgia Rural Declining CountiesConsider the Eastern Rural Declining Counties. Thes e fourteen counties stretch vertically southward from counties that lie northwe st of Augusta to rural areas southwest of Savannah. While these counties have very similar socio-economic data commensurate with very low CRCT test scores (Tables 9 and 10), s ome data are particularly noteworthy. Screven County's eighty percent mathema tics failure in the eighth grade for African American students means that eight out of t en African Americans will not go to high school once the CRCT becomes the arbiter for p romotion. Hancock County's statistics show that eighty percent of the children born in 1999 in the county live in single parent households, meaning that the kinderga rten class in 2004 would have eight out of ten children living with a single parent. Table 9 Eastern Rural Declining Counties Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Mid-State Counties 38%38%49% Statewide 26%26%38% Percent Change +46%+46%+29% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Eastern Counties 34%47%37% Statewide 24%36%31% Percent Change +42%+31%+19%
18 of 32 Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Eastern Counties 27%46%51% Statewide 18%32%41% Percent Change +50%+44%+24% Table 10 African American Eastern Georgia Rural Declining Co unties Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s African American Eastern Counties47%45%61%African American Statewide 37%34%52% Percent Change +27%+32%+17% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Eastern Counties 44%57%47% African American Statewide 35%49%45% Percent Change +25%+16%+4% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language Arts Mathematics African American Eastern Counties 35%54%63% African American Statewide Counties 27%45%58% Percent Change +30%+20%+9% When Tables 11 and 12 are compared to the southeast ern and mid-state counties, there is a distinct outlier, Glascock County, a county with a small African American population of 8.3%, which is not consistent with the data from the other thirty-eight counties. Located in the center of a chain of five rural decl ining counties, Glascock County stands out as the only rural declining county that has SES and CRCT data better than, or comparable to, the State averages (Table 13). Becau se Glascock County's per capita income is in line with the other rural declining co unties, the variable that confounds the repeated pattern of poverty and low CRCT scores is whiteness (Tables 14 &15). Not only will the vast majority of Glascock County stud ents be promoted, about one third of the CRCT test takers actually exceeded the standard s, a statistic not seen in any of the other thirty-eight county data. When the data from the other four counties in the chain
19 of 32 are compared, Glascock County's relatively low unwe d birth rate appears to reduce the number of children in poverty, suggesting that the "children in poverty" and "un-wed mothers" statistics may also be predictors for CRCT achievement. Glascock County's segregation from its neighbors le ads to another assumption germane to this research, that the CRCT Test creates a new kind of discrimination one that hides behind the appearance of fair testing to mask persi stent inequalities in the quality of education that rural African American children rece ive in Georgia (McNeil, 2000). Walter Haney, of Boston College's Center for the St udy of Testing, warns that, "The consequences of standardized tests for Black and Hi spanic students are clearly criminal from an educational point of view. It remains to be seen whether they are criminal under the United States Constitution" (McNeil, 2000, p. 2 31). Table 11 Eastern Georgia Rural Declining Counties SES Data C ompared to State SES AttributesRange in Eastern Rural Declining County Data State Data Pop. African American 8.3% 77.8%28% 1999 Per Capita Income $16,787--$21,565$27,324 1997 Children in Poverty 22.3% 45.4%21.8% 1989 African American in Poverty 25.8% 54.4%30.3% 1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 29.4% 64.2%34.3% 1999 Unwed Births 29.4% 80.6%36.6% No High school Diploma 38% 57.2%29.1% African American No High School Diploma 54% 80.6%41.4% Table 12 Eastern Georgia Counties in Rural Decline Socio-Eco nomic StatusCountyPop. African Am. 1999 Per Capita Income 1997 Children in Poverty 1989 African Am. in Poverty 1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 1999 Unwed Births No High school Diploma African Am. No High School Diploma Emanuel 33.3%$18,33636.6%46.1%43.5%54.6%47.4%65.7% Glascock 8.3%$19,49622.3%29.6%29.4%27.3%49.7%80.6% Hancock 77.8%$16,78737.4%33.8%49.6%80.6%50.5%54.8% Jefferson 56.3%$17,67336.3%38.3%41.6%58.7%48%59.4% Jenkins 40.5%$18,17437.4%46.8%53%57.6%50.1%71.2% Johnson 37%$18,84536.3%38.3%41.6%58.7%48%59.4% Screven 45.3%$19,18131.9%37.6%52.5%55.3%41.1%56.2% Taliaferro 60.3%$17,38345.4%44.1%52.5%67.9%51.4%65.6% Tatnall 31.4%$19,94334.6%42.7%50.3%44.3%42.6%56.9 Treutlen 33.1%$16,49937.5%47.3%48.2%47.1%47.3%56.4%
20 of 32 Warren 59.5%$17,66439.9%44%56%69.7%57.2%68% Wheeler 33.2%$18,86437.9%54.4%64.2%32.5%43.3%54% Wilkenson 40.7%$19,61427.1%25.8%39.7%45.7%38%48.4% Wilkes 43.1%$21,56529.4%37.1%40.5%50.8%43.4%62% State 28.0%$27,32421.8%30.3%34.3%36.6%29.1%41.4%Table 13 Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Taliaferro, and Warre n Counties SES DataCountyPop. African Am. 1999 Per Capita Income 1997 Children in Poverty 1989 African Am. in Poverty 1989 Female Headed Families in Poverty 1999 Unwed Births No High school Diploma African Am. No High School Diploma Glascock 8.3%$19,49622.3%29.6%29.4%27.3%49.7%80.6% Hancock 77.8%$16,78737.4%33.8%49.6%80.6%50.5%54.8% Jefferson 56.3%$17,67336.3%38.3%41.6%58.7%48%59.4% Taliaferro 60.3%$17,38345.4%44.1%52.5%67.9%51.4%65.6% Warren 59.5%$17,66439.9%44%56%69.7%57.2%68%Table 14 Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Taliaferro, and Warre n Counties CRCT Data Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Glascock 21%27%30% Hancock 33%35%62% Jefferson 46%43%56% Taliaferro 60%57%65% Warren 49%35%75% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Glascock 23%34%20% Hancock 40%51%41% Jefferson 37%51%43% Taliaferro 42%75%46% Warren 60%67%66% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Glascock 11%22%19% Hancock 25%42%66% Jefferson 35%53%63%
21 of 32 Taliaferro 47%59%76% Warren 19%39%63% Table 15 African American Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Tali aferro, and Warren Counties CRCT Data Percent Failing CRCT 4th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s GlascockToo Few to ReportToo Few to ReportToo Few t o Report Hancock 32%34%62% Jefferson 54%50%65% Taliaferro 61%56%67% Warren 46%34%74% Percent Failing CRCT 6th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Glascock Too few to reportToo few to reportToo few to report Hancock 40%51%41% Jefferson 45%58%49% Taliaferro 48%81%48% Warren 60%66%65% Percent Failing CRCT 8th Grade Content AreaReadingEnglish/ Language ArtsMathematic s Glascock Too few to reportToo few to reportToo few to report Hancock 26%43%67% Jefferson 36%56%67% Taliaferro 50%63%81% Warren 19%39%63%Giving Up on Going to High SchoolOverwhelmingly, African Americans in Rural Declinin g Counties are at much greater risk of failing the fourth, sixth and eighth grade CRCT than African Americans who live in cities, suburbs or rural growth counties. Yet, t hose most at risk are eighth graders who attend all-Black schools in the rural declining cou nties. Because they failed one or more of the content area tests, chances are that most of the eighth graders in these ten counties will not go on to high school. Clearly, the worst p erforming category was mathematics with only forty-four percent eligible to move up to the ninth grade. If the law were effective today, Taliaferro County would send four students to high school leaving thirteen behind, Talbot County would send only elev en, holding back forty-four. Calhoun fails thirty-three of their fifty-seven eig hth graders, Clay County retains half of
22 of 32their thirty-two children. In the larger counties, Hancock retains eighty of one hundred twenty-one as Terrell County keeps ninety-one of th eir one hundred thirty-three eighth graders in middle school. Ten of the thirty-nine Ru ral Declining Counties fall into the 'all-Black' school system category with six of thes e, Calhoun, Quitman, Clay, Randolph, Stewart and Terrell, being located in the Southwest section of the State. The others, Taliaferro, Hancock and Warren surround all white G lascock County in the east with Talbot County being the lone all-Black school distr ict in the Mid-State region. Because each of these counties has its own school d istrict, these schools are not considered illegally segregated. Drawing school dis trict lines by county does not, superficially at least, appear to be gerrymandering given that each school district corresponds to an established county. Yet, segregat ion is, nonetheless, the result and the children in these schools suffer all the doisadvant ages of a segregated education.Future ConsequencesBeing the most impoverished counties in the state, these Rural Declining school systems faced formidable challenges before the legislation to end social promotion was passed. With an average of twenty-five percent of their pop ulations under the age of seventeen, these counties have large numbers of children who n eed enormous resources to overcome obstacles to academic success. What makes the "Declining Rural Counties" of Georgia's plight unique is that the children who at tend schools in these counties will be denied de facto their property rights to a public e ducation when they drop out of school as a result of the practice of grade retention. Fro m the data presented here, most of these counties already have very high drop out rates. Wha t percentage will the drop out rate reach when thirty-five to fifty percent of all four th, sixth and eighth graders will be retained in grade? The question that ought to be as ked is "Is this legislation really intended to improve education or is it a strategy t o reduce the State's financial obligation to the rural poor?" It is clear that failing masses of poor children will not improve pedagogy because punishing children with retention does not change teaching. What we do know is that the association between retention a nd dropping out is noted consistently throughout educational research. Without a doubt, f lunking children increases the risk of dropping out of school (Frymier, 1997). Because the se thirty-nine counties are very poor, and the tax base available for public schools is sm all, the State of Georgia compensates for this revenue deficiency by making exceptionally large contributions to these counties. Thus, while not stated as policy, it cann ot be ignored that the CRCT will most likely save the State a considerable amount of mone y by reducing the number of students in schools in these counties.While we dispute claims that the CRCT is a valid in strument to determine if a child should be retained in grade, we do not dispute that the CRCT is ironically a very reliable measure of economic resources (Kohn, 2001). As legi slators extol the virtues of achieving academic excellence by using a "fair" tes t, like the CRCT, to determine if a child passes or fails, some wonder if the real agen da is a subtle form of class warfare intended to institutionalize intergenerational immo bility and social stratification (Ohanian, 1999), a kind of violence that leaves beh ind the children with the least resources (Spring, 2000). Given the correspondence between the economic system and the role that the institution of education plays in perpetuating the class stratification of society (Bowles & Gintis, 1976), this legislation g uarantees that the social reproduction of the society in rural Georgia will be preserved. The claim that flunking these children
23 of 32is for their own good is unconscionable, considerin g the dire social and economic punishments that will be imposed upon them. Ohanian derided such accountability measures "as cynical as handing out menus to homele ss people in the name of eradicating hunger" (Ohanian, 1999, p. 31).Chelsea's Story: Putting a Face on the DataWe first met Chelsea at the garage where we have ou r car fixed; it was about 3:30 p.m. on a sweltering spring day in rural South Georgia. Her great-grandmother had just picked her up from school to bring her to the garag e to finish out the workday. Great-grandmother sat down at her desk where she wo rked as the receptionist and bookkeeper for the family owned garage. As I waited for my car to be repaired, we both asked the light brown skinned six-year-old with big brown eyes and braided black hair if she enjoyed her day at school. Chelsea smiled broad ly, "Yes!" she exuberantly replied as she showed us the cover of a book she brought home. From all appearances, Chelsea was a healthy, well-loved first grader. But, this h as not always been the case for Chelsea. Just recently, her great-grandmother took legal mea sures to have Chelsea taken from her mother after a man who was living in the home broke Chelsea's arm while trying to spank her. After he broke Chelsea's arm, the boyfri end badly burned her baby brother because he was crying too loudly. This abuse by one of Chelsea's mother's boyfriends was one of many horrors that this beautiful little girl had to endure over the course of her short life. As great-grandmother tells it, her gran dson had a short affair with Chelsea's mother, an affair that brought Chelsea into the wor ld. After her grandson left Chelsea's mother, great-grandmother felt obligated to support Chelsea in any way that she could. The offer to give financial support and emotional s upport was a selfless act of love given that great-grandmothers' extended family is barely making ends meet. In addition to the financial hardship, it was a painful situation for great-grandmother to witness the cruelty inflicted on Chelsea. Chelsea's mother was involved with too many men and had too many substance addictions to care for her children. While great-grandmother reported to the social service system many times that Chelsea w as being neglected and abused, Chelsea remained with her mother. It took an act of violence against the children for the system to intervene on Chelsea's behalf. Even after the occurrence of such crimes committed against helpless children, Chelsea must s till comply with a visitation plan that includes overnight stays with her mother. Behind in School. After a conversation with great-grandmother later in the Spring, we became aware that Chelsea did not do very well acad emically during the year. As a result of her poor academic performance, due to exc essive absences in the beginning of the year, Chelsea's teacher recommended that she re peat the grade. Already retained once in kindergarten, Chelsea's great-grandmother w as reluctant to hold her back again. great-grandmother felt that by Chelsea now being in a loving and secure home, the prospect that she will catch up to her peers is pro mising. Chelsea's teacher is basing her recommendation to r etain on the failing grades that Chelsea received during the school year. Yet, if th e Iowa Test of Basic Skills and a psychological assessment conducted at the behest of the Department of Family Services are considered in the decision, it is clear that Ch elsea's poor grades were the result of poor attendance rather than cognitive ability. Whil e Chelsea was absent for most class time when she lived with her mother, her scores wer e not as low on the ITBS as one might expect, and in some linguistic areas, her sco res were high. As a result of high
24 of 32scores in certain verbal skills, Chelsea scored a c omposite word analysis in the sixty-fifth percentile. Chelsea's overall math abil ities were average, but her composite math score was low because of a very low score on t he computation section of the test. In support of the decision to promote, Chelsea scor ed at a grade level of 2.2 in reading and 2.0 in math on the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement in a low stress testing environment. The Kaufman Test showed that Chelsea i s beginning to read independently and can add and subtract simple numbers. As an indi cator of her mental ability, the Weschler Intelligence test showed that Chelsea is a child of average intelligence. The psychologist who observed Chelsea noted that she wa s a cheerful child with no signs of depression. The drawings she drew for the psycholog ist showed a loving family situated around a sturdy tree and a solid house. The psychol ogist concluded that Chelsea was now in a loving family that could be trusted for su pport. The assessment went on the note that Chelsea is not a behavioral problem in school, she has many friends and is openly curious about new th ings. She is articulate, attentive, with good concentration and perseverance. Chelsea d oes not have any violent tendencies and, it is worth noting, that in light of her own p hysical abuse, she is quoted as saying that it is wrong to hurt anyone else. Having a birt hday in October of 1993 makes Chelsea one of the oldest in her first grade class. If her great-grandmother had not insisted that Chelsea be promoted, holding her back again may hav e compounded her risk for dropping out of school later in life. Chelsea is pr ogressing very well in the second grade and her chances for success are bright. Yet, anothe r story could have unfolded if a standardized test was the arbiter for her future.Preventing Failure with Changes in Education PolicyThe fact that many school systems are overwhelmed b y the increased number of under prepared students and use social promotion as a nec essity, the public backlash should not be directed to testing and retention as the ans wers. Retention policies should be highly suspect given the lack of demonstrated effec tiveness and prevalent bias against certain groups of children. Focusing public attenti on on standardized testing directs attention away from input issues that can substanti ally effect quality education and places the blame instead on students and teachers. Because the negative effects of failure on children's achievement, motivation, self-concept and graduation rates are so well known, one of the most important decisions in a you ng person's life should not be based on the outcome of a standardized test score alone. Rather than use high-stakes testing, schools can employ less costly strategies that are proven to support children's achievement, thus avoiding the social promotion/ret ention issue altogether. Smaller class sizes, especially in the primary grad es, are frequently cited in the literature as promoting effective learning. "When class size g oes down, learning goes up. It improves student achievement, particularly in the e arly grades and among students who are disadvantaged due to their socioeconomic backgr ound" (DiMaria, 1999, p. 6). In small classes, students who may be a risk can easil y be identified and therefore receive additional support throughout the year (DiMaria, 19 99). If children are grouped in un-graded or mixed-age c lassrooms groupings, classrooms where the age span is greater than one year, childr en have the opportunity to "progress according to their individual rate of learning and development without being compelled
25 of 32to meet age-related achievement expectations" (DiMa ria, 1999, p. 6). When learning takes place in un-graded or mixed-aged classrooms, children will be able to advance to the next developmental level at their own pace with out the restriction of grade-level labeling (DiMaria, 1999, p.7).We also advocate that schools should provide full-t ime kindergarten (NAECS, 2000) as well as offer alternative educational settings such as preschool, after school and summer school programs to assist those students that are l agging behind in certain academic areas (Thompson & Cunningham, 2000). These programs are critical for students who are economically disadvantaged and for whom English is a second language. When children are assessed, promotion decisions sho uld be based on multiple assessments, not on a single test or a single admin istration of a test (Miller, 2000). And, when standardized testing is employed, the results are best used to identify problems so that swift remediation and curricular changes can b e quickly implemented. (Miller, 2001). More preventative measures and less punishme nt in the form of grade retention should guide education policy decisions to give ext ra assistance to children found to be lagging behind (Thompson & Cunningham, 2000).Considering the Cost of Monetary and Human CapitalMost politicians would argue that the cost of progr ams to improve teaching would be too expensive to implement. However, to get a clearer p icture of the short and long term cost that will be incurred after the tougher retention p olicy takes effect, we must look at two factors, one a short term and the other a long term societal cost. In the short term, district operating budgets will be challenged by an increase in expenses when one considers that the cost of retaining a child for one year increase s the educational cost for that child by eight percent (Foster, 1993). Longer-term costs are associated with the expense associated with the inter-generational poverty that will be perpetuated as retention encourages more students to drop out of school. Acc ording to a study completed by Grissom and Shepard (1989), an annual retention inc rease of five to seven percent will result in a cumulative increase of twenty percent t o the present drop out rate. Proponents of retention might counter these two poi nts by speculating that holding children back will improve their academic achieveme nt with the reasoning that this improvement in academic skill will keep them in sch ool. Yet, research paints a completely opposite picture with evidence that bein g overage in school plays a larger role in the decision to leave school than does acad emic achievement. Even when retained children do better academically, they drop out anyway. On average, the drop out rate is thirteen percent higher for over-aged child ren than the drop out rate for normal aged children (Grissom, & Shepard, 1989). Initially retention advocates will boast that the drop out rate has been lowered as a result of t he get tough accountability policy. But keep in mind that the first few graduating classes will have all the at-risk students removed. It is also important to look beyond high s chool drop out rates because many of the students who were retained will leave school be fore they enter high school. After an analysis of the CRCT results, it is appare nt that the rate of retention will rise dramatically, precipitating a proportional increase in per student costs. To be fair, schools should only be held accountable for factors they can control, and, therefore, the decision to retain or promote a student should be m ade at the local level where
26 of 32socio-economic factors can be taken into account (C lotfelter & Ladd, 1996). In addition, the state of Georgia will also have to bear the bur den of future societal costs if and when the student drops out of school. Is it not more cos t effective to seek long-term lasting cures for poor student performance while students a re in school rather than deal with the consequences later?The costs do not stop here. As we discussed earlier school systems need to be aware of the legal ramifications of retention and the potent ial for litigation. Not only could parents bring litigation that schools did not provi de adequate educational resources for their children to succeed (D. W. Albritten, Executi ve Director, Georgia Association of Educators, personal communication, November 24, 200 1), they could also challenge unfair school policies.RecommendationsNot only is there a preponderance of evidence that there is no academic benefit from retention, such practices also appear to be harmful to the social and emotional development of children. Since retention policies d o not address the needs of under-prepared children, it is recommended that the limited resources of school systems be redirected toward the above listed alternative p rograms so that education is more responsive to what is best for children, not for in stitutions, politicians, or professionals. In the state of Georgia, several of these alternati ves, such as full-time preschool and kindergarten, and smaller class sizes, have already been proposed or implemented. Instead of using high-stakes testing, Georgia's edu cational system needs to provide a prevention and remediation program during the schoo l year rather than wait until after the student fails the criterion test.Moreover, education reform decisions need to be gro unded in research rather than influenced by public demand for more stringent educ ational standards. If higher academic standards are the goal, then reform progra ms must speak to the reasons why student do poorly and offer meaningful assistance t o improve learning outcomes. The educational community can no longer afford to ignor e the consequences of policies and practices which disproportionately assign the burde n of responsibility to the child rather than to the program, a reproach that places the chi ld at risk of failure by generating apathy toward school and personal demoralization.Only when the stakeholders abandon the slogan that greater retention means more rigorous standards can schools begin to meet the pr essing needs of children. By taking alternative paths away from retention, schools beco me more accountable to the holistic needs of the child. ReferencesAmerican Educational Research Association. (1985). Standards for educational and psychological testing Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Associat ion. American Educational Research Association. (1998). Draft standards for educational and psychological testing Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Associat ion. American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Eliminating social promotion Retrieved
27 of 32November 12, 2001, from http://www.aft.org/edissues /socialpromotion/eliminat.htm Barnes, R. Governor Barnes' 2001 Education reform initiative. Retrieved September 21, 2001, from http://www.ganet.org/governor/2001_ed_remarks.html Berliner, D.C. & Biddle, B.J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud and attack on the America's public schools. New York: Longman. Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classificat ion of educational goals New York, NY: Longmans. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in Capit alist America. Education reform and the contradictions of economic life New York, NY: Basic Books. Chall, J. (2000). The academic achievement challenge: What really wor ks in the classroom? New York: Guilford Press. Clotfelter, C. T, & Ladd, H. F. (1996). In H. F. La dd (Ed.), Holding schools accountable: Performanced based reform in education (pp. 23-64). Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. Coleman, J., Campbell, J., Wood, A., Weinfeld, F., & York, R. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Educa tion and Welfare, Office of Education. Consortium for Policy Research in Education. (1990) Repeating grades in school: Current practice and research evidence. (Report No. RB-04-1/90). CPRE Policy Briefs (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED32 3585). Cruickshank, D. R., Jenkins, D. B., & Metcalf, K. K (2002). The act of teaching New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Darling-Hammond, L. (1998, November). Avoiding both grade retention and social promotion. The Education Digest, 64 48-53. Darling-Hammond, L., & Faulk, B. (1995). Using stan dards and assessments to support student learning: Alternatives to grade retention In Report to the Chancellor's Committee on Grade Transition Standards. National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University. Denton, D. (2001, January). Finding alternatives to failure: Can states end soc ial promotion and reduce retention rates? (Report No. UD 034 039). Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board. (ERIC Document R eproduction Service No. ED451268). Deskbook encyclopedia of American school law. (2002 ). Birmingham: Oakwood Legal & Business Publishing. DiMaria, M. J. (1999). Issues of social promotion (Report No. PS 028 203). New York, NY: New York City Board of Education. (ERIC Documen t Reproduction Service, No. ED437208).
28 of 32Doll, W., Jr. (1993). A post-modern perspective on curriculum New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Eisner, C. (2000). Ending social promotion: Early lessons learned. A r eport on early lessons learned in the efforts to end social promot ion in the Nation's public schools (Report No. UD 033 891). Washington, DC: U.S. Depar tment of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED448234). Ellmore, R.F., Abelmann, C.H., & Furhman, S. (1996) The new accountability in State education reform: Policy, practice and performance. In H. F. Ladd (Ed.), Holding schools accountable: Performance-based reform in ed ucation (pp. 65-98). Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute. Ellwein, M. C., & Glass, G. V (1989). Ending social promotion in Waterford: Appearances and reality. In L. Shepard, & M.L. Smit h (Eds.), Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention (pp. 151-173). Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press. Foster, J.E. (1993, Fall). Retaining children in gr ade. Childhood Education, 70 38-43. Frymier, J. (1997, February/March). Characteristics of students retained in grade. The High School Journal, 80, 184-190. Georgia Department of Education. Education Reform Initiative Retrieved August 8, 2001, from http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/sla/ret/General -CRCT.html Georgia State Board of Education (SBOE). Official Code 20-2-283. Retrieved November 12, 2001, from http://www.ganet.state.ga.us/services/ocode.htm Grissom, J.B., & Shepard, L.A. (1989). Repeating an d dropping out of school. In L. Shepard, & M.L. Smith (Eds.), Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention (pp. 34-63). Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press. Haney, W. (2000). The myth of the Texas miracle in education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8 (41). Available at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n41/. Heubert, J. & Hauser, R. (Eds.) (1999). High stakes: Testing for tracking, promotion, and graduation Committee on Appropriate Test Use. Washington, DC : National Academy Press. Holmes, C.T. (1989). Grade level retention effects: A meta-analysis of research studies. In L. Shepard, & M.L. Smith (Eds.), Flunking Grades: Research and Policies on Retention (pp. 16-33). Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press. Kohn, A. (2000). The case against standardized testing: Raising scor es, ruining the schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Ladd, H. F. (1996). Holding schools accountable: Performanced based ref orm in education. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. Malone, G., & Bowser, P. (1998, March). Debate: Can retention be good for a student? NEA Today, 16 43-45.
29 of 32Miller, D. W. (2001, March). Scholars say high-stak es tests deserve a failing grade. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 47 A14-A16. Miller, J. (1983). The educational spectrum: Orientations to curriculu m New York, NY: Longman. National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS) (2000). Still! Unacceptable trends in kindergarten entry an d placement. A position statement. (Report No. PS 028 611). Chicago, IL: ERIC Clearin ghouse. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED445775). National Education Association (NEA). NEA Today Online. Retrieved November 12, 2001, from http://www.nea.org/neatoday/0003/presvie w.html McNeil, L. M. (2000). Contradictions of reform: The educational costs of standardized testing. New York: Routledge. Nieto, S. (1992). Racism, discrimination, and expec tations of students' acheivement. Affirming Diversity. New York, NY: Longman. Ohanian,S. (1999). One size fits few: The folly of educational standar ds. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Owings, W.A., & Magliaro, S. (1998, September). Gra de retention: A history of failure. Educational Leadership, 56, 86-88. Paratore, J. R., & McCormack, R.L. (2000). Respondi ng to research in grouping: Flexible grouping in the middle grades. In K. Wood, & T. Dickinson (Eds.), Promoting literacy in grades 4-9 (pp. 402-420). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Peterson, P. L. (1989). Alternatives to student ret ention: New images of the learner, the teacher and classroom learning. In L. Shepard, & M. L. Smith (Eds.), Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention (pp. 174-201). Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press. Reardon, S. (1996, April ). Eighth grade minimum competency testing and earl y high school dropout patterns Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Amer ican Education Research Association. New York, NY. Salzer, J. (2001, August 16). Tests show student ga ins, but many still behind. The Atlanta Constitution, pp. A1, C1, C4. Shepard, L.A., & Smith, M.L. (1989). Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention. Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press. Shepard, L.A., Smith, M.L. & Marion, S.F. (1996). F ailed evidence on grade retention. Psychology in the Schools, 33 (3), 251-261. Smith, M.L. (1989). Teachers' beliefs about retenti on. In L. Shepard, & M.L. Smith (Eds.), Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention (pp. 132-150). Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press.
30 of 32 Spring, J. (2000). American education (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. State of Georgia Office of Educational Assessment. Georgia's report card. Retrieved December 27, 2001, from http://www.ga-oea.org Thompson, C.L., & Cunningham, E.K. (2000). Retention and social promotion: Research and implications for policy. (Report No. UD 033 924). New York, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ERIC Docume nt Reproduction Service No. ED449241). Tomchin, E.M., & Impara, J.C. (1992, Spring). Unrav eling teachers' beliefs about grade retention. American Educational Research Journal, 29 199-223. United States Bureau of the Census. School enrollment 2000 Retrieved November 12, 2001, from http://www.census.gov/population/www/soc demo/school.html University of Georgia, Department of Housing and Co nsumer Economics. Georgia facts. Retrieved January 5, 2002, from http://www.ga-fact s.net Walberg, H., & Fowler, W. (1987). Expenditure and s ize efficiency for public school districts. Educational Researcher, 16, 5-13.About the AuthorsDonald R. Livingston, Ed.D. Email: email@example.comDon Livingston is an Assistant Professor in the Edu cation Department at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. Don completed his doc torate at Georgia Southern University in Curriculum Studies in 2000.Sharon M. LivingstonEmail: livingston_Sharon@hotmail.comSharon is a doctoral fellow at Georgia State Univer sity in Atlanta, Georgia where she is pursuing the Ph. D. in Educational Policy Studies.Their research interests include student performanc e, retention policy and teacher quality. They are presently engaged in research tha t examines the relationships between teacher educational levels and student achievement in high poverty rural counties in Georgia.Copyright 2002 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is epaa.asu.edu General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-2411. The
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