The new achievement standards in the state of Virginia have raised some eyebrows. While Virginia is not alone in establishing different passing rates for different groups of students, the change recently received a lot of attention. In math, Virginia has established an expected passing rate of 45% for black students, 52% for Hispanics, 68% for white students and 82% for Asian Americas. And yes, they really do mean that Asian Americans in the state are expected to meet the state standards in math at nearly twice the rate of African American students. In reading, the rates are 76% for black students, 80% for Hispanics, 90% for white students, and 92% for Asian Americans.
Those who support this approach emphasize that passing is still passing and failing is still failing for any individual student. The new provisions mean that schools won’t fail if they have low levels of achievement for certain populations. Supposedly, this recognizes the realities of how students have performed historically and that schools and teachers are faced with. And, supposedly, the concept is to focus on growth rather than accept that schools are wholesale failing certain populations.
However, having different acceptable passing rates for different groups of students threatens to institutionalize the disparities of opportunities and achievement via official education policy and expectations. Instead of settling for an acknowledgement of differences in cognitive preparation and learning skills, the goal of our educational system should be to rectify those differences and to close the gaps between groups of students who come to our classrooms with different levels of preparedness to learn. Today, research has shown us that we can close those gaps, based on neuroscience principles of cognitive development and their integration into technologies that enable students to “reach” the level of learning ability needed to be successful in passing at much higher rates.