Minn. District Develops New Process For Evaluating Minority Students

School psychologist Mark Zabel had a problem. Hispanic-American children at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar, Minn., were performing poorly on placement tests relative to the general student population. While low scores traditionally suggest a need for special education or remedial classes, Zabel knew that many of these students didn't belong there. Standardized tests, once acclaimed as an objective way to compare students with their peers, are now a topic of increasing controversy. Some educators argue that conventional measurement tools cannot be used to compare students with different backgrounds, including ethnicity. Different Challenges For example, many minority students fare poorly on verbal portions of standardized tests because English is their second language. While these students still may require some type of special attention, they face a different set of challenges than do students with learning disabilities. In the Willmar district, the special education staff have long considered criteria that includes standardized tests, classroom performance, teacher evaluations and Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA) to determine whether a child needs special education. However, the child-study team felt that the standardized tests and CBA did not provide appropriate evaluations of the Hispanic children referred to them. They wanted to develop an academic assessment tool that was both accurate and fair for these students. An "Appropriate" Measure Zabel and his team met this objective, using sample populations of minority test scores as the baseline for evaluation standards. The psychologist enters minority data into MINITAB Statistical Software, Release 10 for Windows, where he computes the frequency distribution and cumulative distribution of the test scores. He can then compare individuals' scores to the resulting baseline to determine relative performance. When they initially implemented the process, staff members performed all calculations by hand. Adopting MINITAB has improved both the turnaround time of student placement and the accuracy of the assessments. Raw data came from local students in grades 1 through 8. After Zabel and an assistant entered the data, MINITAB literally did the rest, completing in seconds calculations that once took hours. The software, published by MINITAB, Inc., in State College, Pa., integrates process-control capabilities with a comprehensive set of statistical methods. Users can access a wide variety of Pareto diagrams, Shewhart-type control charts and problem-solving tools. The program runs on over 35 platforms, including minis, mainframes and micros. Among other enhancements, MINITAB 10 offers improved data-import capabilities, more 2D and 3D graphic options, and new tool palettes. Convenient and Reliable "The convenience factor means a lot to us," Zabel says. "And the improved reliability of the data is important too." The results at Willmar are encouraging. The child-study team now can measure minority students' academic progress more accurately, and can identify children's handicaps more easily and confidently. And because the process has been streamlined, students receive assistance that is timely as well as appropriate to their needs.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.