Tag Archives: ESEA

Measure of Success: Leaving Children Behind

(cross-posted from Working Californians)

The biggest failing of the current ESEA (aka No Child Left Behind), other than the woeful underfunding, is its reliance on only one measure of achievement, a single test.  The one-day snapshot from a standardized test is an unfair, inaccurate and misleading measure of student achievement.  It has caused an over-emphasis on teaching to the test at the expense of other programs like foreign languages, art, music and PE.  The current one-size-fits all approach is hurting all our kids and pushing struggling students behind.

California has recognized the limitations of that model, especially as it relates to the improvement of our ESL, minority and disabled students.  Too often these students are left behind, and schools unfairly punished for having high proportions of special needs students under NCLB.  New state rules require that our schools make progress towards closing the gap between whites and lower-achieving minority students. From the LAT:

“It’s going to be more challenging for schools to reach their growth target,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. But “closing the achievement gap is not only an economic imperative, but a moral imperative.”

The state’s primary measure of success is the Academic Performance Index, which grades schools on a scale from 200 to 1,000 based on student test scores in math, English and other subjects. Schools are required to meet annual improvement targets. Minorities, the poor, the disabled and other groups also have to improve, but until this year, the achievement gap could widen even while a school received credit for getting better.

The API is not perfect, but it is a lot better at measuring school performance than the feds’ single test system.  Looking at straight across-the-board improvement is not enough.  California is focused on improving the performance of all students and truly not leaving anybody behind.
The LAT also has a editorial today on the reauthorization of ESEA.  They state that NCLB has helped expose how poorly we are doing in educating our children, especially poor and minority students, but it has been setting unrealistic achievement standards.

Still, the law has not yet achieved its key goals: improvement in student scores and a narrowing of the achievement gap between white, middle-class children and their poor, minority counterparts. Flaws in the law have held back real educational progress and unfairly placed blame on public-school teachers for everything but the weather. The law has labeled many good schools as failures, which has led to a bipartisan uprising against legislation that once had true bipartisan support. While its basic tenets should remain intact, and even be strengthened, the law needs an overhaul to deserve reauthorization this year.

Reauthorization should not come without some meaningful changes.  We need to get away from blaming teachers for everything, over-emphasizing a single test and get back to recognizing the individual needs of our students and schools.

In states where proficiency actually means something, on the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily help the students who most need help. Teachers often work most with the children who are just below proficient, getting them above the bar so they’ll count as successes. Children at the bottom, who need the help even more, receive too little attention. Gifted students, meanwhile, are left out of the equation, prompting many schools to cut their programs for gifted children.

The law should be rewritten to require yearly improvement for each student – a realistic goal that teachers can meet whatever their students’ scores were at the beginning of the year. This would encourage more good teachers to work at the schools that need them most, and would relieve schools from being blamed for the low scores of a new student whose poor performance is no fault of theirs. To close the achievement gap between minority children and white, and between poor and middle class, more growth should be expected from the lowest-scoring groups.

Indeed, the law should be re-written to allow states to implement growth models that measure changes in student performance and give schools credit for making progress over time.  We should build-in common sense flexibility in assessing test scores from both students with disabilities and English Learners.  Under the current law, schools are frequently unfairly penalized, even though these students are working hard and making progress.

This year NCLB labeled 1 out of 5 California public schools as failing, bringing severe punishments.  We need a system that provides assistance and resources to help all students and schools succeed.  That means fully funding the program.  The President and Congress broke their promise to our schools, making NCLB a federally mandated burden on local school districts.  The shortfall in promised federal support since 2001 now exceeds $55 billion.  It is wrong to make additional demands on our schools without providing the resources to meet those demands in the first place.

NCLB was supposed to help our students not harm them.  The schools that serve mostly disadvantaged, minority students have been hit the hardest and that needs to change.  ESEA/NCLB should provide financial incentives to attract and retain teachers in hard to staff schools, as well as resources to provide quality training to teachers and paraprofessionals.  As Congress begins debate on this program, it should find ways that the bill can encourage and provide resources to increase parental and family involvements in our schools.  Any reauthorization should come with greater flexibility, more inclusive measures of success over time and the funding to actually make success actually possible.