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MINORITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS
Amid better results, calls for more help

By C. Kalimah Redd, Boston Globe Correspondent, 3/4/2003

Despite the gains minorities and students with special needs made on the latest MCAS results, advocates said yesterday schools must do more to help those students catch up to their peers.

''We applaud the progress that the statistics show is taking place, but it also says that there are still a significant number of students who are being left behind,'' said the Rev. Gregory Groover of the Charles Street Church and the Black Ministerial Alliance, which disagrees with the use of the high-stakes exam.

Scores from the December retest showed improvement among minority and other special groups, such as limited English proficient and special education students. For example, students with limited English boosted their passing rate from 35 percent to 67 percent, but that means 33 percent are still not qualified to graduate.

The increase was less for special education, African-American, and Hispanic students. Overall, the class of 2003 increased its passing rate from 81 percent to 90 percent.

For Jane E. Lopez, a staff attorney for the Multi-Cultural Educational Training and Advocacy group, that's not good enough. ''The governor and the [education] commissioner still think that's an acceptable failure rate,'' Lopez said. ''When you break that down and look at who is in that 10 percent, how can that be acceptable under any scheme?''

But Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, stressed that MCAS has prepared students better academically. He noted that the results of the December retest showed that in Boston, which increased its passing rate from 40 percent to 70 percent after four tries, many more students of color have passed the MCAS.

State officials yesterday argued that MCAS has driven schools to work harder for minorities and students with special needs. ''I think students in urban schools in particular are getting the most benefit out of education reform,'' State Board of Education chairman James A. Peyser said. ''They are getting a lot more attention.''

State Board of Education member Abigail Thernstrom agreed. ''We're moving in the right direction. This is a half-empty, half-full glass,'' she said, while acknowledging the state must keep pushing to address the achievement gap. ''We're not doing enough of really thinking about how to provide a superb education for inner-city students, for high-need kids,'' she said.

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 3/4/2003. Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.