Category Archives: No Child Left Behind

What’s Next for No Child Left Behind?

In case you’re wondering what’s next for the Bush-Kennedy legislation known as No Child Left Behind, National Journal had a piece last month that lays out some possibilities. They include doing away with the requirement of 100 percent student proficiency by 2014 and instead emphasizing student growth.

If there is to be a federal role in education–and that’s a disputable statement–it’s better to emphasize student growth than a universal (utopian) requirement for proficiency, which various groups have documented, has given states incentives to dumb down their standards so as to game the system. Presumably it will still be possible to dumb down standards, but with the law emphasizing something short of universal proficiency, the incentive won’t be as strong.

If the federal government is in fact going to be involved in education, it should award money on a competitive basis, as it has started to do with the “Race to the Top” funds. This of course assumes that it provides incentives for the best kind of behavior, which–this being politics–isn’t always going to happen.

NCLB ran into trouble both for its unrealistic goals (which made everyone say “Oh, come on!”) and for threatening, in the extreme, to dissolve schools (arguably, a position inconsistent with federalism).

One useful thing the federal government could do, if it is to be involved, is to give grants (for supplemental educational services or partial payment for private school tuition) to students attending failing schools, or who are themselves behind state standards. Doing so removes the “nuclear option” from over the heads of schools. If the money is limited just to supplemental services (tutoring) rather than private school tuition, it also removes any incentive that schools face to dumb-down standards. If a student receives money for tutoring, that fact does nothing to “punish” a school by enabling the student to leave entirely.

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NCLB Goal: A Balloon Payment

No Child Left Behind calls for 100 percent student proficiency by 2014, though it has let each state decide its timetable for getting there. The Obama Administration plans to redo the law, a fact I mentioned yesterday.

Lisa Snell, an education policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, has a short write-up of the law as it stands now. She uses a metaphor I’ve never thought of, but which is apt:

The 2014 deadline which requires that all states have students that are 100 percent proficient is a balloon payment that the states were never planning to pay. In California, for example, in 2010 the state still does not require that even 50 percent of students are proficient in reading and math to meet the federal benchmark of “adequate yearly progress.” The states were counting on a change in administration long before the 2014 deadline.

The most obvious result of NCLB, she argues, is that it’s resulted in more spending, not more results.

Time to Redo NCLB?

It couldn’t last, could it?

The Obama administration will seek changes to No Child Left Behind, says the New York Times. Among the changes is “the elimination of the law’s 2014 deadline for bringing every American child to academic proficiency.” And in a move that should make school officials everywhere rejoice, “Department of Education officials have said they also want to eliminate the school ratings system built on making ‘adequate yearly progress’ on student test scores.”

There’s some encouraging news in here: “Significantly, said those who have been briefed, the White House wants to change federal financing formulas so that a portion of the money is awarded based on academic progress, rather than by formulas that apportion money to districts according to their numbers of students, especially poor students.”

Not that the federal government ought to have a large role–or indeed, any role–in education. But if it is to have a role, providing financial incentives to schools that make progress is not a bad idea.

The provisions of the law offering students in specified schools to get tutoring help or the option to transfer to other schools are good, but they’ve not been used much. Why that is can be debated, but the point is they’ve had little impact.

What about ending the proficiency requirement? “A new goal, which would replace the 2014 universal proficiency deadline, would be for all students to leave high school ‘college or career ready.'”

That might be an improvement in that it recognizes that now all students will (or should) attend college.

Here’s another slight area of hope: “One section of the current Bush-era law has required states to certify that all teachers are highly qualified, based on their college coursework and state-issued credentials. In the Race to the Top competition, the administration has required participating states to develop the capability to evaluate teachers based on student test data, at least in part, and on whether teachers are successful in raising student achievement.”

Now, I think that school teachers, at least those in high school, ought to have more academic subject  preparation. But requiring, say, math teachers to have a math major, puts too much emphasis on credentials and not enough on performance in what counts–helping students learn.

The Times notes that the law has been widely unpopular, since in the views of many teachers and administrators, “it sets impossible goals for students and schools and humiliates students and educators when they fall short.”

The fact that a law “humiliates” the adults in the schools is the least bad feature. After all, should we operate schools for the benefit of students, or of school employees?

Who’s Making Progress?

KSDE has released a list of schools and districts not making “Adequate Yearly Progress” as required by No Child Left Behind.

If one of the subgroups of students within a school (race, income, disabled, etc.) does not perform at the specified level of proficiency across the district, that school fails to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

If one of the subgroups of students across a district (race, income, disabled, etc.) does not perform at the specified level of proficiency across the district, that district fails to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

A total of 63 districts–a full 20 percent of all districts–fell afoul of the requirements one way or the other.

In 19 cases, the district as a whole as well as at least one of its school failed to make AYP.

In 31 cases, at least one school in the district failed, but the district as a whole made AYP.

In 13 cases, the district as a whole failed to make AYP, but each of its schools made AYP.

So as you can see, the difference is whether you look at particular schools or the district as a whole.

——————

Not Making AYP, 2008 Edition
District No Name District fail? School No. School
D0202 Turner-Kansas City Yes 164 Turner Elem
D0202 Turner-Kansas City 167 Turner Middle School
D0204 Bonner Springs Yes 210 Bonner Springs Elementary
D0204 Bonner Springs 216 Edwardsville Elem
D0204 Bonner Springs 221 Robert E Clark Middle
D0207 Ft Leavenworth Yes All schools made AYP
D0210 Hugoton Public No 357 Hugoton Middle
D0213 West Solomon Valley Yes All schools made AYP
D0214 Ulysses Yes 450 Hickok Elem
D0214 Ulysses 444 Sullivan Elem
D0228 Hanston Yes All schools made AYP
D0233 Olathe No 865 Olathe South Sr High
D0243 Lebo-Waverly Yes All schools made AYP
D0246 Northeast No 1194 Northeast Elem
D0247 Cherokee No 1230 South East High
D0253 Emporia No 1406 Turning Point Learning Center
D0253 Emporia 1418 W A White Elem
D0257 Iola Yes 1562 Iola Middle School
D0259 Wichita Yes 1614 Adams Elem
D0259 Wichita 1646 Clark Elem
D0259 Wichita 1808 Curtis Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1660 Enterprise Elem
D0259 Wichita 1814 Hamilton Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1846 Heights High
D0259 Wichita 1628 Jackson Elementary
D0259 Wichita 1704 Kelly Liberal Arts Academy
D0259 Wichita 1718 Linwood Elementary
D0259 Wichita 1824 Mayberry Cultural Magnet Middle
D0259 Wichita 1837 Metro Blvd Alt High
D0259 Wichita 1742 Metro Meridian Alt High
D0259 Wichita 1852 Metro Midtown Alt High
D0259 Wichita 1838 North High
D0259 Wichita 1756 Park Elementary
D0259 Wichita 1840 South High
D0259 Wichita 1842 Southeast High
D0259 Wichita 1693 Spaght Accelerated Magnet
D0259 Wichita 1782 Stanley Elem
D0259 Wichita 1785 Stucky Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1834 Truesdell Middle School
D0259 Wichita 1844 West High
D0259 Wichita 1796 White Elem
D0259 Wichita 1833 Wilbur Middle School
D0260 Derby No 1926 Derby Middle Sch
D0261 Haysville No 1956 Campus High Haysville
D0261 Haysville 1961 Prairie Elementary School
D0265 Goddard No 2027 Goddard Middle School
D0266 Maize No 2050 Maize Sr High
D0287 West Franklin Yes 2559 Appanoose Elementary School
D0290 Ottawa Yes All schools made AYP
D0300 Comanche Co Yes All schools made AYP
D0305 Salina No 3026 Salina High Central
D0308 Hutchinson Yes 3102 Avenue A Elem
D0308 Hutchinson 3130 Hutchinson Middle School
D0308 Hutchinson 3114 Lincoln Elem
D0308 Hutchinson 3116 McCandless Elem
D0308 Hutchinson 3124 Wiley Elem
D0312 Haven Public Sc No 3241 Pleasantview Academy Grade S
D0330 Mission Valley Yes All schools made AYP
D0343 Perry Public Sc No 4029 Perry-Lecompton Middle
D0352 Goodland Yes 4224 Grant Junior High
D0353 Wellington Yes All schools made AYP
D0365 Garnett Yes 4590 Garnett Elem
D0367 Osawatomie No 4665 Osawatomie Middle School
D0369 Burrton No 4734 Burrton Elem
D0373 Newton No 4807 Santa Fe Middle
D0373 Newton 4799 Slate Creek Elementary
D0382 Pratt No 5090 Liberty Middle School
D0383 Manhattan-Ogden No 5130 Theo Roosevelt Elem
D0394 Rose Hill Public No 5374 Rose Hill Intermediate
D0395 LaCrosse No 5396 La Crosse Middle School
D0398 Peabody-Burns Yes All schools made AYP
D0402 Augusta No 5560 Augusta Middle School
D0404 Riverton No 5620 Riverton Elem
D0407 Russell County No 5722 Ruppenthal Middle
D0417 Morris County Yes All schools made AYP
D0418 McPherson No 6038 McPherson Middle School
D0420 Osage City Yes All schools made AYP
D0433 Midway Schools Yes 6428 Doniphan West Middle School
D0435 Abilene No 6475 Abilene Middle School
D0443 Dodge City No 6686 Dodge City High School
D0443 Dodge City 6684 Dodge City Middle School
D0445 Coffeyville Yes 6756 Community Elementary
D0445 Coffeyville 6770 Roosevelt Middle
D0446 Independence No 6828 Independence Middle
D0447 Cherryvale Yes All schools made AYP
D0450 Shawnee Heights No 6945 Shawnee Heights Middle
D0450 Shawnee Heights 6948 Tecumseh South Elem
D0453 Leavenworth Yes 7008 Earl M Lawson Elem
D0453 Leavenworth 7020 Leavenworth Sr High
D0453 Leavenworth 7026 Leavenworth Virtual School
D0453 Leavenworth 7018 Leavenworth West Middle School
D0453 Leavenworth 7022 Muncie Elem
D0453 Leavenworth 7016 Nettie Hartnett/Ben Day Elem
D0453 Leavenworth 7017 Richard W. Warren Middle School
D0457 Garden City Yes 7130 Garden City Sr High
D0457 Garden City 7138 Kenneth Henderson Middle
D0465 Winfield No 7331 Winfield Intermediate School
D0465 Winfield 7333 Winfield Middle School
D0467 Leoti No 7383 Wichita Co Jr High
D0476 Copeland Yes All schools made AYP
D0480 Liberal Yes 7715 Cottonwood Intermediate School
D0480 Liberal 7714 Garfield Elem
D0480 Liberal 7728 Liberal South Middle
D0480 Liberal 7730 Liberal West Middle
D0480 Liberal 7724 Southlawn Elem
D0495 Ft Larned No 8140 Larned Middle School
D0497 Lawrence No 8195 Deerfield Elem
D0497 Lawrence 8198 Hillcrest Elem
D0497 Lawrence 8200 Kennedy Elem
D0497 Lawrence 8214 Lawrence Central Jr Hi
D0497 Lawrence 8224 Lawrence Free State High
D0497 Lawrence 8218 Lawrence High
D0500 Kansas City Yes 8320 Argentine Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8324 Arrowhead Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8280 Central Elementary School
D0500 Kansas City 8316 Central Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8328 Coronado Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8331 D D Eisenhower Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8288 Emerson Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8329 F L Schlagle High
D0500 Kansas City 8294 Fairfax Campus
D0500 Kansas City 8308 Frank Rushton Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8332 Hazel Grove Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8290 John Fiske Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8342 Lindbergh Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8298 Mark Twain Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8303 Noble Prentis Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8305 Quindaro Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8321 Rosedale Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8282 Silver City Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8346 Stony Point South
D0500 Kansas City 8352 Welborn Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8319 West Middle
D0500 Kansas City 8313 Whittier Elem
D0500 Kansas City 8323 Wyandotte High
D0501 Topeka Yes 8442 Avondale East Elem
D0501 Topeka 8552 Capital City
D0501 Topeka 8524 Eisenhower Middle School
D0501 Topeka 8469 Hope St Academy Charter Middle
D0501 Topeka 8532 Landon Middle School
D0501 Topeka 8471 Linn Elem
D0501 Topeka 8474 Lundgren Elem
D0501 Topeka 8494 Quincy Elem
D0501 Topeka 8444 Shaner Elem
D0501 Topeka 8504 State Street Elem
D0501 Topeka 8512 Whitson Elem
D0503 Parsons Yes 8594 Parsons Middle School
D0503 Parsons 8596 Parsons Sr High
D0511 Attica Yes 8764 Attica High
D0512 Shawnee Mission Yes 8784 Bluejacket-Flint
D0512 Shawnee Mission 8793 Comanche Elem
D0512 Shawnee Mission 8880 Indian Woods Middle

Lawrence: The Headline Looks Great. The Record?

Some schools in Lawrence made progress in complying with the goals of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, neither high school is.

(Source: “District making progress when it comes to No Child Left Behind Act,” LJW, September 9, 2008)

Are Test Scores Inflated?

Though this next story is a few months old, it’s still worth reading. Stateline.Org noted that some states take a rather lax approach to standardized tests while others take a more rigorous approach.

– The reading test in Texas (2006) was multiple choice.

– The reading test in Ohio (2005) had several short-answer questions

– The reading test in Massachusetts (2007) required answering open-response questions.

One reason cited for the multiple-choice questions: It takes a lot less time (and thus money) to grade them.

States complain that the federal government requires them to test students for NCLB, but then doesn’t pay enough money to pay for the testing. Shouldn’t states be interested in measuring the results anyway? Besides, the feds do give states a great amount of leeway in which standards they use, and what counts as making “adequate yearly progress” for a given year.

One interesting fact from the article: Since NCLB was enacted, the amount spent on tests has nearly tripled. One reason for the increase: more students are tested. Another: an additional subject test (science).

Another interesting fact, according to author Pauline Vu, is that NCLB has actually resulted in making it harder to compare states. There’s been a tendency to abandon the use of the Stanford Achievement Test and other tests that have been used by many states, and instead create state-specific states reflecting the various state standards.

This has resulted in “credential creep.” It’s now possible for the same student who be “proficient” in one state and “not proficient” in another–all depending on how states set the curve. (See Grading on the Curve, a commentary from the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy on this phenomenon.) The implications are stark: “to be considered proficient readers in Wisconsin, for example, fourth-graders needed to answer questions about as difficult as one that asked them to note a few differences between cats and dogs. But fourth-graders in Massachusetts faced more difficult questions such as those about a written passage by Russian author Leo Tolstoy.”

Leave Some Children Behind?

The ever-iconoclastic Charles Murray says in a new essay that both conservatives and liberals live in “the age of educational romanticism.”

He defines it as “the belief that just about all children who are not doing well in school have the potential to do much better.” And of course, you’ll find teachers and people who write in the field of education saying that it’s vital for teachers to have such a belief,” and act on it.

Murray heaps scorn on the No Child Left Behind Law: “The United States Congress, acting with large bipartisan majorities, at the urging of the President, enacted as the law of the land that all children are to be above average. I do not exaggerate.”

Now, when politicians, especially those far away from the situation, make grand promises, some skepticism is in order.

But then we must ask: If Murray is right, what does that mean for policy? If you belief in the moral value of enhanced school choice, not much. It’s still valuable in and of itself, regardless of how far specific children can advance themselves. In fact, school choice and the competitive market for education, in which schools keep on their toes for the right to educate children, may be even more important in such a setting.

He has this to say about No Child Left Behind:

In the early years, I didn’t need the experts to tell me [that the law was causing trouble]. I was watching the demoralized teachers in my children’s school, wearied by endless preparation for the exams and frustrated by demands from on high to concentrate on students who were at the cusp of being able to pass the state’s proficiency benchmark at the expense of everyone else.

That rings true with what other observers have said, and shows the limits of standards-based reform efforts.

Murray also uses the NAEP (“the nation’s report card”) as a checkmark against No Child Left Behind:

If students were progressing at the rate implied by the Act, more than 60 percent of them would have been at the proficient level by 2007. In math, the actual percentages for NAEP were 39 percent for fourth-graders and 32 percent for eighth-graders.

And yet how many schools have been restructured in response to poor scores, as the law demands? Very few.

Here Today, Fad(ed away) Tomorrow

George F. Will takes on educational fads in a recent column available on Real Clear Politics.

An excerpt:

… the nation has expanded the number of teachers much faster than the number of students has grown. Hiring more, rather than more competent, teachers meant more dues-paying union members. For decades, schools have been treated as laboratories for various equity experiments. Fads incubated in education schools gave us “open” classrooms, teachers as “facilitators of learning” rather than transmitters of knowledge, abandonment of a literary canon in the name of “multiculturalism,” and so on, producing a majority of high school juniors who could not locate the Civil War in the proper half-century.

Reforms are necessary for the vitality of any endeavor, yet some reforms will be unsuccessful-remembered as fads. How to foster useful change and minimize the presence of wasteful fads? Diversification, diversification, diversification. Yet to much of education today takes a top-down approach.

Pell Grants for Kids

President Bush unveiled a proposal that he calls “Pell Grants for Kids.” It looks like an enhancement to the school choice options of No Child Left Behind. Here’s an excerpt from a document released by the White House:


Pell Grants For Kids Will Provide New Options For Parents Of Children Trapped In Underperforming Schools

Pell Grants for Kids would support State and local efforts to increase educational options for low-income K-12 students enrolled in the Nation’s most troubled public schools. Under the Pell Grants for Kids program, the Education Department would make competitive awards to States, cities, local educational agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop K-12 scholarship programs for eligible low-income students attending schools that have not made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind for five years, or that have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent.

  • Students in chronically underperforming schools could use scholarships to pay tuition, fees, and other education-related expenses at higher-performing out-of-district public schools or nearby private or faith-based schools. These scholarships would supplement aid already available through the Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies program and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which would follow the child.
  • Pell Grants for Kids is modeled after the highly successful Federal Pell Grant program for college students. The Federal Pell Grant program provides low-income students with financial support to attend any of more than 5,000 public, private, and faith-based colleges. The same choice, flexibility, and support now available to students seeking a quality college education should be offered to low-income families with children in chronically low-performing schools.

In an election year, it’s hard to imagine that the proposal will go anywhere. But it is true that Pell Grants, and the model of competition among providers, has worked at the college level.  Now if only states would borrow more from that example.

White House on NCLB

One issue that will go nowhere this year is No Child Left Behind. It’s up for reauthorization soon. In a press release, the White House touts the law as having prodded student achievement–plausible but definitely not certain–and calls for making sure that students are aware of the tutoring options available to them under the law.

On the need to let child avail themselves of the options they have, we’re certainly for that.

Information for Parents from KSDE

KSDE has some useful information for parents seeking more choices for their children.

See the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center page, to start with. You also get (PDF) a list of tutoring services that your child might–depending on the school–be eligible for, free of charge.

Will NCLB Be Reformed?

Will the No Child Left Behind law be reformed? Most likely, though the benefits of that are not yet clear. Here’s one summary of a proposed change, from a “status” model to a “growth” model. The status model, which we have now, looks at school performance as a snapshot. The growth model looks at individual student performance to see if it has improved over time.

There are benefits to both approaches. The status approach is consistent with the idea that there’s a certain body of knowledge and set of skills to acquire and that students can be tested for them. The growth approach recognizes that some schools, and some students, start much further behind the starting line than others. Another appeal is that it applies to all students. There’s some evidence than under NCLB, schools have focused nearly exclusively on the performance of students who are near proficiency, ignoring those far from it–or beyond it.

One troubling feature of the whole debate, though, is that any move to a growth standard will almost surely be motivated by the desire to let schools off the hook (that is, avoid sanctions) for not meeting the standards set by NCLB right now. Look at that word: Sanctions. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Something that’s bad and to be avoided?

But that question comes from a way of thinking that neglects education and favors schools. The goal seems to be to minimize any disruption to schools as we know them. That’s the wrong goal. The right goal should be the education of children, which might mean diverse means for diverse students. If that means converting a standard school to a charter school as a result of NCLB, so be it. If it means giving students in a failing school a voucher to enroll elsewhere …. Well, for whose benefit are we levying “school” taxes, anyway?

At the moment, call us ambivalent on the status-versus-growth debate.

USNWR on NCLB

US News & World Report offers a set of articles on No Child Left Behind. See the November 12 issue.

Failing Schools are Hard to Fix offers some statistics on where schools are:

Nationwide, 4,509 schools serving more than 2 million children—or about 8 percent of all federally funded schools—have failed to bring enough students to grade level for four or more years straight, up from 2,790 schools in 2006. Most of these schools are in low-income, racial- and ethnic- minority districts in California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

That’s probably sugar-coating the matter, when you compare the U.S. with other nations.

The article lays out the steps that, in theory, are supposed to happen:

Under the NCLB accountability system, schools in their fourth consecutive year of failure must take at least one “corrective action,” such as adopting a new curriculum, replacing some staff, or extending the school year. After six years of failure, schools face restructuring. The options here include handing control over to the state or to a private management company, bringing in an entirely new staff, and opening public charter schools in place of the failing schools.

We said “theoretically.” So how well have these reforms been carried out? It’s hard to tell, because they’ve not been implemented as often as they should be:

According to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report, none of these approaches were taken to fix about 40 percent of the 1,635 schools that have reported failure every year through 2005-2006. It suggests what some critics have said for some time: For the most part, state and local districts exploit loopholes in the federal law and employ other remedies, often without knowing how well those changes will work.

Education secretary Margaret Spelling says “We need to know how we are going to address those chronic underperformers. We don’t yet.”

And how has it been since the alarm was sounded about the need for change? At least since “A Nation at Risk,” in the early 1980s. Maybe it’s time to use more enterpreneurship (true charter schools, tax credits, vouchers), since the government-directed approach has not been a stunning success.

A Tough Test for English-Language Students suggests that alternative tests or accomodations should be included. Granted, non-native speaker have challenges. Then again, schools in Kansas get extra funds for those students. So not expecting results is not realistic.

Should Teachers Earn According to What Students Learn? asks a question to which we say “Yes–if we work it out.” It starts out telling us about a teacher who had reached the top of her salary scale in Miami, and was looking for the opportunity to earn more through a performance-based system in Denver. To his credit, the chairman of the House Education Committee in Washington D.C., has offered some support for the idea. But the obstacle, of course, is the teacher union.

Craig Richards, a professor of education in the Teachers College at Columbia University, says “It’s not that a performance-pay plan couldn’t work. It’s that no one has come up with a thoughtful way to do it.” Well, can somebody get on it?

Actually, there are some methods already in place, such as the TVAAS, used in Tennessee. Then there’s this:

In Florida, a legislative plan called Special Teachers Are Rewarded collapsed early this year after educators and their unions called the plan arbitrary, unfair, and divisive. The STAR program would have given bonuses only to the top 25 percent of teachers in the state, and it was based largely on student test scores. It disadvantaged librarians, art and music teachers, and others whose students were not tested.

That’s unfortunate. On the one hand, we might say “Some teachers whose students aren’t tested can’t get the bonuses. So what?” After all, the tested subjects are most likely to be the most significant ones, and hence should be the ones in which teachers have the best chance of getting rewards. On the other hand, it is possible to include these non-core teachers in a pay-for-performance plan. A school could, for example, offer a pot of money tied to performance pay, some of which would be available to all teachers (judged on the school performance as a whole), while the rest would be reserved for subject teachers (math, reading, science).

For Talented Students, Challenges to Grow echoes some complaints we offered up about NCLB a while ago.

Brielle’s experience exposes a cruel irony of NCLB policy: High-achieving kids who easily can pass the standardized test requirements are often overlooked as schools focus on raising the scores of those students in the middle of the curve.

One Standard Fits All discusses the fact that some states judge themselves on the curve–that is, rather favorably. Under NCLB, states determine what level on which test determines “proficient.”

The series closes with an interview with Secretary Spellings.  She gives the law credit for focusing on performance and on poor and minority children.

On whether the law distorts education by focusing on math and reading: “Reading and math are fundamental basic skills without which you can’t learn social studies, history, so on, and so forth. This is the right place to start.”

On the performance of non-native speakers of English: “If you’re testing kids in their native language for accountability purposes, which this [original] law allows for, you’re going to have potentially different results….Three quarters of the kids that are classified as ‘limited English proficient’ have been here for five years or more. Two thirds are United States citizens. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a citizen of the United States to get to the end of the third grade and read on grade level in English.”

AYP Again

On September 11, the KSDE released its preliminary report of who was naughty and nice, or more accurately, which schools did not make AYP and which did not. Of those who did not, Wichita schools were tripped up by the reading requirement.

“Of Wichita’s schools, 37 — more than one-third — were on the ‘needing improvement’ list released Tuesday.” The district itself was on the list. (The law applies to schools and to districts.)

Superintendent Brooks made what appeared to be strange comments in response:

If subgroups weren’t taken into account, the district would have met all targets, Brooks said.

“I expressed my frustration to (the state Department of Education) recently because they were saying that of the almost 300 districts in the state, only 30-some didn’t meet AYP,” Brooks told the Wichita school board Monday. “That’s spinning data to make the 30 of us that didn’t make it look like dopes. Those of us that didn’t have subgroups.”

What’s odd? First, the concern about the reputation of the school officials. Look like dopes? Shouldn’t the greater concern be whether children are learning? As for subgroups, well, yes, the measurement of different demographic groups–whites, blacks, low-income, etc.–is part and parcel of the law. “No Child,” you might say, means “no child regardless of his subgroup.”

Granted, NCLB is a blunt instrument:

looking at the target scores only for a single year doesn’t give an accurate picture, said Diane Gross, Haysville’s assistant superintendent for instructional services. The district’s performance has generally improved in the past four years, she said, as has the graduation rate and the average ACT scores for Haysville high school students.”I don’t think an AYP report gives you all of the information you need to make judgments about schools,” she said.

“All the research will tell you that you need multiple data points to understand the kind of education kids are getting.”

Multiple data points is one reason why longitudinal analysis (student growth models) is useful. But NCLB does take some changes over time into account: additional “sanctions” are imposed on a school for each year it does not meet AYP.

Source: Some area schools fail to meet state goals, Wichita Eagle, September 12.

Are Kansas Test Scores Inflated?

Under No Child Left Behind, schools are supposed to move all students to “proficient.” But under the law, states have a lot of flexibility in defining what proficient means. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) suggests that some states have been guilty of grade inflation.

Kansas is one of them.

How does the grade inflation work? The NCES compares the results of the NAEP and the results of state tests. The NAEP, otherwise known as the “Nation’s  Report Card,” takes a sample from each state. Thus, it applies one standard across the country. If a state says that 80 percent of its students are proficient, but the NAEP says that only 20 percent are proficient, there’s a problem.

According to NCES numbers from 2005, for the median state,

  • Fourth-grade reading proficiency was 77 percent on state tests–but only 30 percent on the NAEP.
  • Eighth-grade reading proficiency was 72 percent on state tests–but only 28 percent on the NAEP
  • Fourth-grade mathematics proficiency was 74 percent on state tests–but only 38 percent on the NAEP.
  • Eighth-grade mathematics proficiency was 61 percent on state tests–but only 32 percent on the NAEP.

So where did Kansas fit? For the numbers that are available:

Fourth grade math: 85 percent proficient on the state test, but only 47 percent on the NAEP

Eighth grade reading: 78 percent on the state test, but only 35 percent on the NAEP.

This next item is from Missouri, but the theme is in Kansas as well: Area school administrators denounce federal benchmarks, Kansas City Star, August 17.

Among the other complaints by the superintendents: Some states supposedly game the system by setting low standards, allowing more students to score higher on tests; the law does a poor job of tracking student progress from grade to grade; and it focuses, in part, on certain groups that are hard to serve, such as special-education students and those who are not proficient in English.

Focuses on students that are hard to serve? Is that a bad thing? Given that parents must go to extraordinary measures to send their children to something other than the school district in which they live, high standards may just be in order.

That said, the article points out that No Child Left Behind does not take into account individual student performance. There’s a case to be made that tracking individual achievement gains is a better way of keeping score than using aggregate numbers.

August 2007 “Improvement” List

Here’s the official list from the KSDE web site. Since it’s available there only in Word format, we’ve decided to paste the whole thing in here for ease of use.

Kansas State Department of Education

Title I Schools and Districts

Identified for Improvement for 2007-2008

 

No Child Left Behind requires Title I schools and districts that do not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two consecutive years be identified for improvement.  The identification must occur prior to the beginning of the school year so that parents may make informed decisions regarding their children’s schools. Each school and district had opportunities to review their state assessment results, attendance and graduation data, make corrections, and file an appeal if they disagreed with the AYP decision. After a school or district is identified for improvement, it must make AYP for two consecutive years to be off improvement.

 

Title I Districts Identified for Improvement for 2007-2008

  • In 2006-2007, 11 Title I districts were identified for improvement. In 2007-2008, 16 districts are on improvement
  • 5 districts are in their 1st year of improvement
  • 7 districts are in their 2nd year of improvement; however, two are on “delay” status since they made AYP in 2007
  • 4 districts are in their 4th year of improvement
  • 10 districts are on improvement for reading; one is on improvement for mathematics
  • 5 districts are on improvement for both reading and mathematics
  • 8 districts on improvement have schools on improvement; 8 have no schools on improvement

 

USD #

USD Name

# Years on

Improvement

Area(s) of

Improvement

Made AYP in 2007

# Schools on Improvement

202

Turner

 

4

 

Reading

No

1

214

Ulysses

1

Reading

No

1

 

253

Emporia

2

Reading

No

0

 

259

Wichita

4

Reading and

Mathematics

No

9

261

Haysville

 

2

Reading

No

0

290

Ottawa

2

Reading

Yes

0

 

305

Salina

1

Reading

No

1

 

445

Coffeyville

 

4

Reading

No

0

453

Leavenworth

1

Reading

No

 

0

457

Garden City

2

Reading

Yes

3

 

464

Tonganoxie

1

Mathematics

No

0

 

480

Liberal

2

Reading and

Mathematics

No

1

490

El Dorado

2

Reading and

Mathematics

No

0

500

Kansas City

 

4

Reading and

Mathematics

No

13

501

Topeka

2

Reading and

Mathematics

No

2

503

Parsons

1

Reading

No

0

 

Title I Schools Identified for Improvement for 2007-2008

 

  • In 2006-2007, there were 25 Title I schools identified for improvement. In 2007-2008, there are 35 schools
  • 18 schools are identified for the first time
  • 3 schools are on delay status for next level of sanctions as they made AYP in spring 2007;
  • 5 schools are in Year 2 improvement status; 6 are in Year 3;  2 are in Year 4 and 1 is in Year 5
  • 11 schools are identified for reading only
  • 8 schools are identified for mathematics only
  • 16 schools are identified for both reading and mathematics
  • 2006-2007 AYP mathematics targets were 66.8% for K-8 and 55.7% for 9-12
  • 2006-2007 AYP reading targets were 69.5% for K-8 and 65.0% for 9-12

 

USD #

USD Name

School

Area(s) of Improvement

# Years on

Improvement

*Improvement

Status Year

Delay Next Level of Sanction

School Sanctions

202

Turner

Turner Elementary

Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

 

214

Ulysses

Kepley Middle School

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

233

Olathe

Ridgeview Elementary

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

259

Wichita

Cloud Elementary

Reading and Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

259

Wichita

Curtis Middle

Reading and Mathematics

4

3

No

Choice, SES and Corrective Action

259

Wichita

Hamilton Middle

Reading and Mathematics

4

3

No

Choice, SES and Corrective Action

259

Wichita

Irving Elementary

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

 

259

Wichita

Jardine Middle Magnet

Reading and Mathematics

2

2

No

Choice and SES

 

259

Wichita

Marshall Middle

Reading and

Mathematics

5

4

No

Choice, SES, Corrective Action

Restructuring Plan

259

Wichita

Mead Middle

Reading and Mathematics

5

4

No

Choice, SES,

Corrective Action, Restructuring Plan

259

Wichita

Pleasant Valley Middle

Reading and Mathematics

4

3

No

Choice, SES and Corrective Action

259

Wichita

Truesdell Middle

Mathematics

3

3

No

Choice, SES and Corrective Action

305

Salina

Lakewood Middle

Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

 

430

South Brown County

Everest Middle

Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

457

Garden City

Alta Brown Elementary

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

457

Garden City

Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center

Reading

2

1

Yes

Choice

(SES Delayed)

457

Garden City

Charles O Stones Intermediate

Reading

2

1

Yes

Choice

(SES Delayed)

475

Geary County

Junction City Middle School

Mathematics

6

5

Yes

Choice, SES, Corrective Action Restructuring Plan

480

Liberal

Liberal South Middle School

Reading and Mathematics

2

2

No

 Choice and SES

500`

Kansas City

Argentine Middle

Reading and Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

500

Kansas City

Banneker Elementary

Reading and Mathematics

2

2

No

Choice and SES

 

500

Kansas City

Chelsea Elementary

Reading and Mathematics

2

2

No

Choice and SES

 

500

Kansas City

Douglas Elementary

Mathematics

2

1

Yes

Choice

(SES Delayed)

500

Kansas City

Grant Elementary

Reading and Mathematics

2

2

No

Choice and SES

 

500

Kansas City

Bertram Caruthers Elementary

Reading and Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

500

Kansas City

Mark Twain Elementary

Reading and Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

500

Kansas City

Quindaro Elementary

 

Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

 

500

Kansas City

New Stanley

Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

 

500

Kansas City

Whittier Elementary

 

Reading

4

3

No

Choice, SES and Corrective Action

500

Kansas City

Central Middle School

Reading

*7

1

No

Choice

500

Kansas City

Northwest Middle

Reading and Mathematics

3

3

No

Choice, SES and Corrective Action

500

Kansas City

M.E. Pearson Elementary

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

 

501

Topeka

Chase Middle

Reading and Mathematics

1

1

No

Choice

501

Topeka

Scott Computer Technology Magnet

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

512

Shawnee Mission

Nieman Elementary

Reading

1

1

No

Choice

 

 

Six schools in USD 500 Kansas City that were on improvement in 2006-2007 are not included in the 2007-2008 list as they are no longer Title I schools. In February 2007, the district notified the Kansas State Department of Education Title I office that it was changing the low-income data used to determine which schools are Title I schools. Previously, Kansas City used both free and reduced lunch data to determine the percent of poverty. In 2007-2008, the district is only including free lunch data. Title I requires districts to rank order all schools by the percent of poverty to determine which schools are eligible for Title I. As a result of decreasing Title I allocations, the district will serve all schools with a free lunch percentage of 75% or higher and additional elementary schools with 69% or higher poverty. Twenty-one schools will be Title I schools in 2007-2008.

 

In addition, Central Middle School in USD 500 Kansas City was previously on the list for mathematics. They are off improvement for mathematics; however, this is the first year for improvement in reading.

 

*Following are the School Sanctions by Improvement Status Year:

Year 1 Choice

Year 2 Choice and Supplemental Educational Services (SES)

            Year 3 Choice, SES and Corrective Action

            Year 4 Choice, SES, Continue Corrective Action, and Plan to Restructure

            Year 5 Choice, SES, Implement Restructuring Plan

 

A school or district on improvement is considered on delay status when they make AYP one year. With this status, the school or district delays moving to the next level of sanction. For example, a school in its second year of improvement must offer choice but delays implementing supplemental educational services since it made AYP during the last testing cycle.

Who’s “On Improvement?”

Which schools are bringing students up to expectations, and which are not? The state Department of Education has the news, which is making the rounds. It has released a list of 35 schools and 11 school districts that are “on improvement,” which means that they aren’t living up to expectations.

The new list includes only “Title I” schools, which receive extra funding due to having a specified number of students getting a free or discounted lunch. Expect a list that reviews all schools sometime later this year.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools must meet performance targets (set by each state) in successive years. When a school does not, various conditions kick in, including a requirement that the schools offer remedial tutoring (or pay for someone else to do it).

So how strong are the achievement requirements? Just over two-thirds of K-8 students (66.8 percent) must be proficient (grade-level) in math–and only 55. 7 percent of high school students must be proficient. In reading, 69.5 percent of students must be proficient for a K-8 school to satisfy the law, while for high schools the number is 65 percent.
Most articles have a local angle. The Kansas City Star (“Kansas school improvement list includes 16 KC area schools,” August 14) says “Nearly half of the 35 Kansas schools tagged as “on improvement” by the state’s Department of Education this afternoon are in the Kansas City area.”

“The preliminary list of schools,” the paper says, “includes 13 from Kansas City, Kan., as well as Nieman Elementary in the Shawnee Mission district, Ridgeview Elementary in Olathe and Turner Elementary in Turner.

Kansas City, Kan., schools on the list are Banneker, Chelsea, Douglas, Grant, Bertram Caruthers, Mark Twain, Quindaro, New Stanley, Whittier and M.E. Pearson elementaries, and Argentine, Central and Northwest middle schools.”

The 11 districts include Kansas City, Kan., Leavenworth, Tonganoxie and Turner, all in eastern Kansas.

WIBW has the entire list in its story “New List of Schools Needing Academic Improvement.”It notes (see asterisks below) that some districts are on the list even though they have no individual schools on the list. It asks how this is possible.

Here’s the reply, which involves the technical nature of the law: “The minimum size of a subgroup (e.g. ethnicity, income level, special needs or English proficiency) must be 30 students. In many small schools, a subgroup of this size is not possible. However, at the district level, the aggregate number may be at or above 30 and must be calculated according to the No Child Left Behind Legislation.”

Title 1 Districts Identified for Improvement for 2007-2008
USD 202 Turner
4 Years on Improvement
Area of improvement: Reading
Number of Schools on Improvement: 1

USD 214 Ulysses
1 Year on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 1

USD 253 Emporia
2 Years on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 259 Wichita
4 Years on Improvement
Areas: Reading and Mathematics
Number of Schools: 9

USD 261 Haysville
2 Years on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 290 Ottawa
Year 1 Delay on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 305 Salina
1 Year on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 1

USD 445 Coffeyville
4 Years on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 453 Leavenworth
1 Year on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 457 Garden City
Year 1 Delay on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 3

USD 464 Tonganoxie
1 Year on Improvement
Area: Mathematics
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 480 Liberal
2 Years on Improvement
Areas: Reading and Mathematics
Number of Schools: 1

USD 490 El Dorado
2 Years on Improvement
Areas: Reading and Mathematics
Number of Schools: 0*

USD 500 Kansas City
4 Years on Improvement
Areas: Reading and Mathematics
Number of Schools: 13

USD 501 Topeka
2 Years on Improvement
Areas: Reading and Mathematics
Number of Schools: 2

USD 503 Parsons
1 Year on Improvement
Area: Reading
Number of Schools: 0*

*How can a district be on improvement yet have no identified schools on improvement?

The minimum size of a subgroup (e.g. ethnicity, income level, special needs or English proficiency) must be 30 students. In many small schools, a subgroup of this size is not possible. However, at the district level, the aggregate number may be at or above 30 and must be calculated according to the No Child Left Behind Legislation.

Title I Schools Identified for Improvement for 2007-2008
USD 202 Turner – Turner Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 214 Ulysses – Kepley Middle School
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 233 Olathe- Ridgeview Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 259 Wichita – Cloud Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Curtis Middle
4 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 3
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Hamilton Middle
4 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 3
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Irving Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 259 Wichita – Jardine Middle Magnet
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 2
Area of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Marshall Middle
5 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 4
Area of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Mead Middle
5 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 4
Area of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Pleasant Valley Middle
4 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 3
Area of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 259 Wichita – Truesdell Middle
3 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 3
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 305 Salina – Lakewood Middle
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 430 South Brown City – Everest Middle
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 457 Garden City – Alta Brown Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 457 Garden City – Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 457 Garden City – Charles O Stones Intermediate
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 475 Geary County – Junction City Middle School
6 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 5
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 480 Liberal – Liberal South Middle School
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 2
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Argentine Middle
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Banneker Elementary
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 2
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Chelsea Elementary
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 2
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Douglas Elementary
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Grant Elementary
2 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 2
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Bertram Caruthers Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Mark Twain Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Quindaro Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – New Stanley
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – Whittier Elementary
4 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 3
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 500 Kansas City – Central Middle School
7 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 500 Kansas City – Northwest Middle
3 Years on Improvement
Improvement Status Years: 3
Area of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 500 Kansas City – M.E. Pearson Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 501 Topeka – Chase Middle
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Areas of Improvement: Reading and Mathematics

USD 501 Topeka – Scott Computer Technology Magnet
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

USD 512 Shawnee Mission – Nieman Elementary
1 Year on Improvement
Improvement Status Year: 1
Area of Improvement: Reading

Kansas Leads Nation–in Federal Education Dollars

More and more, states are depending on the federal government for their education money, as federal funding went up 60 percent between 1999 and 2005. Blame (or credit) No Child Left Behind, says the Tax Foundation’s report “K-12 Spending More Reliant on Federal Government Since No Child Left Behind Act.”

In Kansas, the percentage of school revenue coming from federal sources went from 6.26 percent to 10.16 percent. Per-pupil funding went from $ 452 to $ 968, an increase of 88.02 percent–highest in the nation. Second-place Nebraska was far behind, at 68.44 percent.

The Reading Wars

Charlotte Allen writes a lengthy treatment of the reading wars for the Weekly Standard. One takeaway from the piece is that it’s a pity that the curriculum that a student receives is in some measure a political question, based on the whims of what is popular at the time–and what happens to hold sway in the particular district a child must attend. (“Read it and Weep,” July 16, 2007).

Teacher Training Criticized

From the Joplin Globe:

A nationwide organization says Missouri gets “dismal” marks for its statewide teacher policies.

Kansas gets the same ranking from the study, and Oklahoma is marginally better, earning a ranking of “weak but progressing.”

The grades come from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that conducted a three-year research project on each state’s policies for educating and certifying teachers.

[snip]

Missouri and Kansas take hits in the study for having standards for elementary teachers that do not clearly refer to the knowledge and skills the teachers need before entering the classroom. That increases the likelihood that teachers will enter classrooms with significant gaps in their knowledge of essential core subjects, the report said.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president for policy with the national group, said that criterion was developed using the No Child Left Behind Act as a rough guideline. The act calls for teachers to be labeled as highly qualified to teach subjects they are asked to teach.

Source: Group gives Missouri, Kansas bad grades in teacher policies, Joplin Globe, June 27

Watching the Gap

Several articles lately have looked at achievement gaps. From the Wichita Eagle (“Black churches hope to help students bridge achievement gap,” June 7):

“For example, about 47 percent of black sixth-graders scored below standard on the 2005-2006 reading test, compared with 33 percent of sixth-graders across the Wichita school district. About 61 percent of black 10th-graders scored below standard in math, compared with about 49 percent of 10th-graders across the district, according to the state Department of Education.”

Members of the Wichita Alliance of Black School Educators want to hold more discussions about what to do. There’s one encouraging sign: some schools are making a difference:

“We have a number of cultural issues that are very serious and very grave that demand our attention,” said Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita branch NAACP, who has two children in public schools. “In the interim, there are schools around the country who have figured out how to make it work.”

It’s not unusual, when the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy makes a comment about the need for improving the performance of schools, for someone to say “Yes but what about the parents who don’t care.” Never mind that in other circumstances this might be classified under “blaming the victim.” As Myles points out, the record of schools–even those with similar demographic characteristics–is not uniform.

To close the gap, we need innovation. That’s currently inhibited by the bureaucracy and red tape in the status quo. One way to cut through that is to make greater use of charter schools, private scholarship funds, and yes, even vouchers or tax credits for attendance at private schools. It’s the “light a fire under their feet” strategy.

The article also mentions tutoring programs conducted by local churches. Good for them. So why not make more formal uses of such programs?

Meanwhile, the Pew Hispanic Center came out with a report on a group of students called, in the education industry, “English Language Learners.”

“The results of national testing conducted in 2005 shows that nearly half (46%) of 4th grade students in the English language learner (ELL) category scored “below basic” in mathematics in 2005–the lowest level possible. Nearly three quarters (73%) scored below basic in reading. In middle school achievement in mathematics was lower still, with more than two-thirds (71%) of 8th grade ELL students scoring below basic. Meanwhile, the same share (71%) of 8th grade ELL students scored below basic in reading.”

Both the Hutchinson News (“Schools face stubborn gap in achievement,” June 7) and the Parsons Sun (“Kansas schools face an achievement gap,” June 7)  provide a Kansas angle. From the Sun:

Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, agreed that school districts are expected to test students who don’t adequately know the test’s language. Resulting low test scores are then held against those districts.

This is curious but standard language: held against those districts. The focus is not on students, but on the district. Not on the person we seek to educate, but on the institution we currently rely on for achieving that goal.

The achievement gap has been there for a long time. No Child Left Behind highlights that gap, by calling for structural changes (tutoring, some limited school choice, and in time, greater school choice). Discussions of the law focus on the implications for institutions, as if requiring these changes of them is in and of itself a bad thing. But if that’s what it takes to, say, provide a student the tutoring that leads to success, institutional disruption is hardly a major concern.

Here’s some more Kansas-specific information from the Sun:

In Kansas, data from the state Department of Education showed English language learners improved their test scores along with other Kansas students from 2000 to 2005.

Still, the gap remains significant between groups. State assessments showed just 5 percent of the white population scored at the lowest levels in third-grade reading results last year. In contrast, about 22 percent of English language learners were at the lowest level. That percentage grows larger in the upper grades.

Kansas’ Hispanic student population has been the only enrollment growth for many school districts in recent years.

Three of the state’s largest districts, Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, now report a majority of their students are minorities, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards. That’s mainly because of a rapid increase in Hispanic enrollment, primarily Mexican immigrants.

Ten more districts, including Emporia and most in southwest Kansas, also are now majority minority.

Transfer Option in NCLB to be Made Weaker?

Under No Child Left Behind, some students are able to transfer to other schools. That’s not a bad thing, if you’re a student who would benefit from a different environment. But that provision would be crippled if a proposed change to the law takes place.

Under a measure supported by Jerry Moran and Dennis Moore, two members of the Kansas congressional delegation, “‘Failing’ schools would have one year to improve before students could transfer to another school. Currently, transfer is an immediate option.”

A year’s delay in finding a better school could have a serious impact on a student’s academic career. Why would that be a good thing?

(Moore at work on NCLB, KC Community News, May 16).

NCLB Defended

There are various arguments to be made against No Child Left Behind, some valid, some less so. Mary Cohen responds in an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle:

READER VIEW: NO CHILD LAW IS WORKING (May 4)

When I read The Eagle editorial “Fix it: No Child must change” (April 16 Opinion), I was reminded of the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

It has been five years since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. We now have a track record to go by, and it’s a good one. Our students have made strong academic progress, particularly in the early grades. Reading and math scores are at all-time highs in several categories, and achievement gaps are finally beginning to close. In Kansas, the number of fifth-graders becoming proficient in reading rose 10 percentage points in just two years (2002-04), while fourth-grader proficiency in math improved by 13 percentage points.

True, no law is perfect. We are working with Congress and the states to make constructive changes to the law. New flexibilities have been added, such as the use of “growth models” and modified assessments for students with severe cognitive disabilities. But the core principle of annual student assessments must not change. Assessments are the key to accountability. Without them, teachers will not have the data they need to see the problem and solve it. And more kids will fall through the cracks.

This debate is not new.

Kansas’ initial effort to strengthen its accountability was called “Quality Performance Accreditation.” When QPA was passed, there were similar warnings of loss of local control, “teaching to the test” and lack of creativity. Yet after several years, most educators couldn’t imagine operating without QPA because it caused the schools and teachers to focus on what was expected of their students.

The same is true of the No Child Left Behind law.

This is not the time to turn our backs on the progress we have made. If our nation is to remain competitive, we must continually push for higher standards and accountability. Our competitors across the globe certainly are not looking for ways to “opt out” of their education systems. And neither should we.

MARY COHEN
Regional representative
U.S. Department of Education
Kansas City, Mo.

Growth models could be a promising addition to the law.

Here’s a Reform for NCLB

One criticism of No Child Left Behind is that it focuses too much on the lower-performing children. As a recent article in the Wichita Eagle (“‘No Child Left Behind’ law’s teeth may be pulled,” April 24) puts it,

Opponents of NCLB say that test scores have risen only because schools have focused so intensely on teaching the basics, often at the expense of programs for gifted and talented children.

If nothing else, this law shows one significant limitation of government programs. They tend to be one-size-fits all. In this case, it’s the gifted and talented who are shortchanged.

So if government schools want to focus on those not at the bottom of the achievement scale, maybe it’s time to revisit the television show “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Enact a program of tax credits or vouchers so that parents can put their children in any school that they want, including privately run schools.  The parents of poorly-performing students, who are likely to be the most dissatisfied with the school that their child attends, can send the children elsewhere.

The school the low-performing students attend get to shed many of those children, who require extra attention. The private schools, meanwhile, will welcome the challenge of the new crop of students. Parents of students who stay and of those who leave will be happy.

Win-win-win?