Washington, D.C., has announced that it will set different testing targets for children of different racial groups. According to a story in the Washington Post, this is now common practice among the states that have obtained waivers from No Child Left Behind.

The District and the states are acknowledging that children of color are so far behind their white and Asian peers that they will need more time to catch up. Actually, in D.C., black students will be expected to make more progress than white students so they can catch up with white students.

The story says:

Officials say the new targets account for differences in current performance and demand the fastest progress from students who are furthest behind. The goals vary across much of the country by race, family income and disability, and in Washington, they also vary by school.

At Anacostia High, which draws almost exclusively African Americans from one of the District’s most impoverished areas, officials aim to quadruple the proportion of students who are proficient in reading by 2017, but that would still mean that fewer than six out of 10 pass standardized reading tests. Across town at the School Without Walls in Northwest Washington, a diverse and high-performing magnet that enrolls students from across the city, the aim is higher: 99.6 percent.

Meanwhile, at Wilson Senior High, 67 percent of black students — and 88 percent of Asians and 95 percent of whites — are expected to pass standardized math tests five years from now.

Setting different aspirations for different groups of children represents a sea change in national education policy, which for years has prescribed blanket goals for all students. Some education experts see the new approach as a way to speed achievement for black, Latino and low-income students, but some parents can’t help but feel that less is being expected of their children.

The absurdity of this scenario is that D.C. and the states expect that all children will reach proficiency on normed tests. Normed tests have a bell curve. On a normed test, half will always be above and half below the mean. No matter how hard you try, a bell curve is still a bell curve. There is no district in the nation where 100% of the children are proficient. The children who are most advantaged cluster in the top half; those who are least advantaged cluster in the bottom half. This is true of the SAT, the ACT, state tests, federal tests, and international tests.

And, if you step back, you must wonder why the standardized tests–whose flaws, inaccuracies, and statistical vagaries are well known–have become the measure of all education.

No private school in the nation is subjecting its children to this mad scramble to live up to the demands of Pearson and McGraw Hill’s psychometricians.

Maybe all this seeming madness is just part of the larger scenario to declare US education a failure and find more schools ripe for privatization.