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NCLB Outrages

Feds Flunk Another Good School

The George Mayne Elementary School is a case study in what's wrong with No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that Congress passed two years ago.

By most measures, the largely low-income and Hispanic school in Alviso has made impressive strides. Its Academic Performance Index, the chief state measure of achievement, has risen every year, from the bottom rank to near the state average. In the latest STAR results, the percentage of students proficient in math and English rose substantially in almost every grade -- more than doubling in two instances.

Principal Denise Stephens has put together a team of committed teachers; most have advanced degrees.

Other schools would be bragging about these achievements. But this week, Superintendent Paul Perotti sent out a letter with demoralizing news. It will tell parents that they have the right to pull their children out of Mayne and send them to another school in the Santa Clara Unified School District. The feds have determined that Mayne needs improvement -- a euphemism for failure.

For two years in a row, Mayne failed its ``adequate yearly progress'' target under No Child Left Behind. Because it has a high proportion of low-income students, qualifying it for Title I money, Mayne and 18 other
schools in Santa Clara County face federal sanctions.

The reason? No Child Left Behind requires that 95 percent of students in every major ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group in a school, plus English learners and disabled students, take and pass state standardized tests. If one category comes up short, the entire school flunks.

Mayne fell one or two Latino students shy of 95 percent participation in the STAR tests. So the ax fell. It must use precious Title I dollars to bus students to other schools, at their parents' request.

No Child Left Behind's intent is to raise the level of every student, not just the average student, and to close the achievement gaps facing poor and minority students.

But two years in, it's a source of confusion and contradiction -- an overload in states, like California, that are vigorously pursuing their own reforms. No Child Left Behind's purpose is being undermined by its flaws:

- The requirement that every student in America be proficient in math and English by 2014 is unrealistic. It sets up nearly every school for
failure, especially those with a continuous inflow of non-English speakers. It promotes cynicism toward public schools.

- Rigid measures turn the law into a game of gotcha. A school that raises scores of a dozen subgroups will get dinged if one subgroup's
score dips. Among those labeled in need of improvement for not testing 95 percent of students were Palo Alto High, Lynbrook High and Saratoga High -- three of the region's highest achieving schools.

- The law doesn't differentiate between states with easy tests and states with rigorous tests. California officials argue that the state is
being penalized for high standards.

There are plenty of unalterably bad schools that should be sanctioned; parents in those schools should have the right to go someplace better. George Mayne Elementary is not one of them. No Child Left Behind should be rewritten to recognize the difference.

— Editorial
Feds Flunk a Good School: George Mayne Elementary and Many Others Face Unrealistic Requirement
San Jose Mercury News


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