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Different academic goals for different races? Alabama plan takes flak.

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Alabama’s newly approved education plan, which will replace No Child Left Behind in the state, is under fire for setting different goals for students in math and reading tests based in part on the students' race and economic status, in an attempt to close achievement gaps.

Alabama’s Plan 2020, approved in June by the US Department of Education, follows the Bush-era precedent to divide students by subgroups on the basis of race or ethnicity to assess achievement, but goes further in setting different goals for the groups, the Tuscaloosa News first reported Sunday.

For instance, while 95 percent of third-graders, regardless of subgroup, need to pass math in 2013 under No Child Left Behind, the Alabama plan expects 91.5 percent of white students and 79 percent of black students to pass math tests in 2013.

“Isn't this discrimination? Doesn't this imply that some students are not as smart as others depending on their genetic and economic backgrounds?" asked Elois Zeanah, president of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, in a written statement. 

The state has the highest math goals for Asian/Pacific Islander students, expecting 93.6 percent will pass the test this year, and lower goals for Hispanic students and students in poverty. 

The goals aren’t supposed to stay stagnant. Instead, Plan 2020 requires that students in lower-performing subgroups improve the most until rates reach relative parity in 2018.

“We're not just grabbing the numbers out of the air,” Shanthia Washington, education administrator for the Alabama Department of Education, told the Tuscaloosa News. “This is real-life, true data. These are your goals every year. The goal is to reduce the students who aren't proficient over the period of the next six years.” 

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