Conflicting test scores for California students
Imagine that your child went to a school run by co-principals. One sends home messages saying your child is doing swimmingly, progressing at an impressive pace. The other informs you that your kid's in trouble, needs tutoring and, at this rate, will never be on track to pass high school.
Any good parent would be frustrated and tell the two to talk to one another to get their stories straight.
Now, if only parents could order the squabbling state and federal departments of education to settle their differences over No Child Left Behind, a federal law that continues to create confusion and consternation.
The law is sound in principle and is finally forcing school districts to focus on low-performing schools. But the feds have enforced the law rigidly, punishing some California schools on picayune points and penalizing others despite progress with disadvantaged students. They need to listen to the state's complaints.
This time of year, the state and the feds issue contradictory and baffling report cards.
Last week came the good news. The state Department of Education announced the biggest one-year gains in state standards tests known as STAR. Students overall advanced 5 percent in English-language arts and 4 percent in math. The trend since 2001, especially for elementary schools, is definitely upward. Forty percent of California students scored at proficient or advanced in English, while 38 percent reached that level in math.
Of course, that also means three-fifths of the state's students are not up to grade level in English-language arts or math. And although improvement is occurring at roughly the same pace for all ethnic and racial groups, large gaps remain. While 65 percent of Asian-Americans are proficient in math, only 23 percent of African-Americans and 27 percent of Latinos are.
That's one reason the news early next month will be harsh. The state will announce a record number of schools -- including some that looked stellar the week before -- will have failed to meet their goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Low-income schools receiving Title I money will face sanctions that include giving parents the right to transfer their children to another school.
The confusion results from the state and the feds measuring the same data with different yardsticks. No Child Left Behind demands that all students be proficient in math and English by 2014 and lays out a timetable to get there. This year, it's raising the bar: A quarter of middle or elementary school students and a fifth of high school students must now be proficient to dodge penalties. Every ethnic or racial group must clear the bar for a school to pass.
Last year, under a lower requirement, 20 percent of the state's 8,000 schools failed. This year, the number of non-compliant schools will soar.
No Child Left Behind's goal of high expectations for every child, regardless of race and circumstance, is spot-on. But the state is right in arguing that California's standards are tough, and the feds shouldn't punish schools that are making steady progress with kids, including those learning English, who are very far behind.
California officials are not alone in calling on the Bush administration to show more flexibility under No Child Left Behind. The commotion that will result in coming weeks with the new listing of failing schools will fortify their case
San Jose Mercury News
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES