September 9, 2008 in Opinion

Our view: No Child Left Behind needs to be fixed, not dumped

 

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Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act:

•Almost every school will fail. It’s just a matter of time. That’s because the law calls for 100 percent proficiency for all categories of students, including specific ethnic groups, special needs kids and English learners, by the 2013-14 school year.

•An increasing number of schools will fail even as they improve.

•Some states will lower academic standards and make their standardized tests easier to forestall their inevitable failure.

•Precious resources will be spent on action plans for improvement and transporting students from “failing” schools, even if those students are doing fine.

So what are parents to think when they read that read that 15 of 18 public high schools in Spokane County failed to meet standards? Well, they could conclude that the schools suddenly got worse or the measuring stick is awfully crooked.

It’s the latter. There are 37 ways to fail, which include not meeting the standards for on-time graduation rates, attendance, standardized tests and bridging the achievement gap between low-income students and the rest.

If schools go 36 for 37, they’re failures. If they go 14 for 37, they’re failures. If they improve from 14 to 36, they’re failures. If schools get a perfect score for every subgroup except one, they’re failures. However, schools could be deemed successes even without being perfect. If there aren’t enough students in a particular subgroup, that category isn’t measured.

True success stories get overshadowed. Many schools have shown big improvement on the Washington Assessment for Student Learning, but they’re on the watch list. Many schools have narrowed the achievement gap. An increasing number of students are being brought up to standard.

But in two years, average yearly progress standards will once again toughen en route to that impossible 100 percent goal. “Failure” is easy to predict.

So what are parents to do? If they want the feds to “get real, be fair,” as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson has said, they need to contact members of Congress, because they are debating reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The president who has touted it will soon be out of office, but that doesn’t mean Congress should dump the accountability regime altogether. Educators need to be held accountable. Schools need to continue to improve. But when school districts are diverting resources from students or scrambling around to meet unfair goals, the whole exercise becomes counterproductive.

Congress doesn’t need to snap the measuring stick in two, but it does need to straighten it.

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