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NCLB Outrages

State-federal collision giving schools whiplash

Ohanian Comment: When are the politicos going to start answering these questions?

State and federal governments are telling school districts to improve reading scores. But when it comes to grading, they're not on the same page.

Last week, for example, Palm Beach County school officials learned that the district faces penalties including potential takeover by private operators if it again flunks under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The district has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" the NCLB standard three years in a row.

Horrible, right? But then Gov. Bush and state Education Commissioner John Winn announced that Palm Beach County was one of 15 districts statewide to earn an A during the 2004-05 school year. Fantastic, right?

There are other odd examples. Martin County also earned an A from Tallahassee. In fact, it had the highest grade in the state. But did Martin make adequate yearly progress under NCLB? It did not. Neither did the St. Lucie County School District, which got a C from the state. On the other hand, Broward County was one of only two districts, out of 67, to pass under the federal standard, but it received only a B from the state. The clashing grades seem even stranger because both are based primarily on math and reading scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

How can a district make an A and an F on the same results? NCLB supposedly requires districts to pay more attention to minorities and disadvantaged students who traditionally have done poorly. A district can't pass if even one of those groups is "left behind." But that rule has been manipulated. More individual schools in Florida passed under NCLB this year because the U.S. Department of Education let the state set lower standards for some groups. Another head-scratching fact, though, is that the state gave A grades to schools in part because of progress among lower-performing students.

Conflicting grades would be just another example of government gobbledygook if it weren't for looming NCLB penalties that could force districts to transport students to new schools, provide tutors, fire teachers or even dissolve the school board. It's impossible to justify that expense and disruption for a district that the state says is doing A work. Shouldn't the feds at least be on the same page as the state before they throw the book at a school district?

— Editorial
Palm Beach Post


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