'No Child Left Behind' getting examined before its renewal
Educators must join together and refuse to participate in child abuse.
"Imagine a student with disabilities normally reading on a second grade level, being forced to take a test on a seventh grade level. They are most often distraught to the point of physical illness."
--Ashley Atkinson, director of accountability and assessment for District 5
by Kelli Gavant, Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- With the No Child Left Behind law facing renewal next year, Congress is looking at ways to improve the landmark education act.
One area being examined is the performance of non-native speakers and students with disabilities, groups that often are cited to explain why schools do not meet No Child Left Behind requirements.
Each subgroup of students must meet achievement standards for a school to reach federal goals.
The House education committee Wednesday solicited recommendations from special education and bilingual education experts about complaints about the 4-year-old federal law.
In Spartanburg County, educators have their own concerns about No Child Left Behind and suggestions to fix it.
"It's a one-size-fits-all law," said Maureen Kriese, special education director for Spartanburg District 5. "You're dealing with a range of children that don't fit that mold."
In 2005, for every school in District 5 that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, a federal benchmark of student achievement on statewide assessments, students with disabilities were a factor.
"The most detrimental problem is the unbearable stress placed on the child," said Ashley Atkinson, director of accountability and assessment for District 5.
"Imagine a student with disabilities normally reading on a second grade level, being forced to take a test on a seventh grade level. They are most often distraught to the point of physical illness," he said.
Atkinson cited a recent example of a child with Down syndrome who did not speak English being required to take the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test.
"It's ludicrous to have to force a child to endure that," he said.
Starting this fall, students with disabilities no longer will be allowed to take portions of the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test below their grade level.
"These students have learning disabilities that may be so severe that it is unrealistic, unreasonable and in some instances, on the verge of inhuman to expect them to reach these standards," said Trish Beason, testing coordinator for Spartanburg District 1.
Beason predicted the new requirement would increase the number of schools that fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements.
"States embraced the idea of higher standards and expectations," said Jim Rex, Democratic candidate for state superintendent of education. "It's been good for South Carolina. The question now is what kind of adjustments need to be made to make this thing workable."
Rex said reforms are needed for testing students with disabilities.
"It's causing an awful lot of frustration and alienation," he said. "We shouldn't ignore those groups, but we shouldn't necessarily be testing them in the way we're testing other types of students."
Karen Floyd, his Republican opponent, agreed adjustments are needed: "The state of South Carolina could create a better methodology to gauge progress for special education and English-as-second-language students."
She suggested that students learning English should be tested in the age-appropriate level in their language of origin.
Students from other countries learning English are required to be tested and counted in assessments if they have been in the United States for more than a year.
District 3 Superintendent Jim Ray contends that both the No Child Left Behind law and the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test need overhauling.
The state test is "useless as an instructional tool," he said.
"Using it to create state report cards for No Child Left Behind is adding insult to injury."
"No one argues with the premise that we can't leave any child behind, but you can't measure children on a single test," Ray said