The Opportunity to Leave No Child Behind in the Middle Grades
I stumbled on this conference while doing research. It may seem a bit 'dated, but I offer it as an example of how people scurry for the latest opportunity. When in doubt, call it a Draft.
Surely anyone who ever taught middle school will wonder what the Education Trust "data artifacts" might be. And this is just the beginning of questions raised by these presentations.
Report of a Working Conference on
July 21-23, 2002 Washington,DC
Sponsored By the Council of Chief State School Officers: The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform
The Urban Middle Grades Reform Network
COUNCIL OF CHIEF STATE SCHOOL OFFICERS
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nationwide, nonprofit
organization of the public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary
education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Activity, and five extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO seeks its members' consensus on major educational
issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies,
Congress, and the public. Through its structure of standing and special committees, the
Council responds to a broad range of concerns about education and provides leadership
and technical assistance on major educational issues.
DIVISION OF STATE SERVICES AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
The Division of State Services and Technical Assistance supports state education agencies in developing standards-based systems that enable all children to succeed. Initiatives of the division support improved methods for collecting, analyzing and using information for decision-making; development of assessment resources; creation of high-quality professional preparation and development programs; emphasis on instruction suited for diverse learners; and the removal of barriers to academic success. The division combines existing activities in the former Resource Center on Educational Equity, State Education Assessment Center, and State Leadership Center.
COUNCIL OF CHIEF STATE SCHOOL OFFICERS
Michael E. Ward (North Carolina), President
Ted Stilwill (Iowa), President-Elect
Suellen K. Reed (Indiana), Vice President
G. Thomas Houlihan, Executive Director
Julia Lara, Deputy Executive Director,
Division of State Services and Technical Assistance
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the individuals who presented and
participated at the working conference held in Washington, D.C. on July 21-23, 2002.
We would also like to thank the co-sponsors, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-
Grades Reform and the Urban Middle Grades ReformNetwork, a program of the
Academy for Educational Development.
We further would like to acknowledge the Bill and Melinda Gates, the Ewing Marion
Kauffman, the Edna McConnell Clark, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundations for their
generous support of this conference. The opinions expressed in the document do not
necessarily represent those of the foundations.
This document was produced at CCSSO under the direction of Julia Lara, Deputy
Executive Director, Division of State Support and Technical Assistance and the Director
of the High Poverty Schools Initiative. Cynthia Brown, education consultant and former
director of the Council’s Resource Center on Educational Equity, wrote the report.
Michael DiMaggio, Senior Project Associate, updated the report and provided editorial
The Opportunity to Leave No Child Behind
in the Middle Grades
Report of a Working Conference on July 21-23, 2002
Table of Contents
Hopeful Once Again
Conference Opening Remarks of Hayes Mizell, Director of the Program for
Student Achievement at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.
The Promise and Opportunities Afforded by the No Child Left Behind Act, if Taken
Remarks of Joseph Johnson, Special Assistant to the Ohio Superintendent of
Public Instruction and former Director of the Office of Compensatory
Education, the office administering Title I in the U.S. Department of Education
PowerPoint Presentation: The Promise and Opportunities Afforded by the No
Child Left Behind Act
Questions and Answers
Improving Middle Grade Schools with District and State Funds through the No Child
Left Behind Act
Remarks by Cindy Brown, Conference Coordinator and Independent Consultant
Using NCLB Act Funds to Improve Low Performing Middle Grade
and Other Schools
Remarks by Susan Sclafani, Counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of
Education and former Chief of Staff for Educational Services in the Houston
Independent School District.
State Use of NCLB Act Funds to Assist Low Performing Schools
Remarks by Marvin Pittman, Senior Assistant to the North Carolina
Superintendent for Public Instruction and Elsie Leak, Director of School
Improvement, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
Comprehensive School Reform
Why Comprehensive School Reform and Scientifically Based Research Models?
Remarks of Monica Martinez, Director of Outreach for the National
Clearinghouse on Comprehensive School Reform.
How Must Comprehensive School Reform Models Meet NCLB Act
Requirements for Demonstrating Scientifically Based Research on Outcomes
Remarks of Rebecca Herman, Research Associate, American Institutes for
Research and author of the 1999 publication the “Educator’s Guide to
Comprehensive School Reform”
PowerPoint Presentation: Guidelines for Judging Quality of a Study
What Does the Research Say about Improving Achievement of Students in Low
Performing Middle Grade Schools?
Remarks of Sam Stringfield, Program Director, Systemic Supports for School
Reform at the Center for Research on Students Placed at Risk
How Do You Know A Research-Based Design When You See It?
Remarks of Steve Fleischman, Executive Director, Education Quality Institute
Questions and Answers
Reporting of Data and Public Engagement
Public Engagement: Understanding the NCLB Act
Remarks of Arnold Fege, Director of Public Engagement, Public Education
The NCLB Act and How to Use State Data
Remarks of Jeanne Brennan, Communications Manager, Education Trust
Involving Parents in Student Improvement
Remarks of Karen Mapp, President, Institute for Responsive Education
The Use of Middle Grade Self-Studies and the NCLB Act
Remarks of Steve Mertens, Senior Research Scientist, Center for Prevention
Research and Development, University of Illinois
PowerPoint Presentation: Self Studies and the No Child Left Behind Act
Questions and Answers
From State Middle Grade Program Director to State Superintendent: What I Have
Learned About Using Federal Resources to Accelerate Middle Grade Reform
Remarks of Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction
National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform
Remarks of Deborah Kasak, Executive Director
Summaries of Topic Workshops
Using NCLB Act Requirements and Middle Grade Data Artifacts to Refocus
Instruction and Improve Achievement
Remarks of Paul Ruiz, Chief Academic Officer, District of Columbia Public
Schools (Former Principal Partner, Education Trust)
PowerPoint Presentation: Using Artifact Analyses in Middle School to Prepare
All Students for a College Ready Curriculum
Using NCLB Act Requirements, Guidance, and Funding to Support High Quality
Professional Development in the Middle Grades
Stephanie Hirsh, Deputy Executive Director, National Staff Development Council
School and District Leadership for Reform and the Use of NCLB Act Funds
Mary Louise Martin, Principal Mentor, San Diego Public Schools and Former
Principal, Wilson Middle School
Middle School Comprehensive Reform Models and Members of the National Forum
to Accelerate Middle Grade Reform
Atlas in the Middle (AIM)
Nancy Ames, Vice President, Education Development Center, Inc; and Janet
Henderson, Assistant Superintendent, Starkville School District, Mississippi
Different Ways of Knowing
Susan Galletti, Vice President, Galef Institute and Rose Molinelli, Executive
Assistant to the Superintendent, New York City Board of Education
Making Middle Grades Work
Sondra Cooney, Southern Regional Education Board and Susan Cassidy,
Principal, Marley Middle School
Patrick Montesano, Vice President, Academy for Educational Development and
Teri West, Program Officer, Academy for Educational Development
Ellyn Feerick, Marketing/Communications Associate, Turning Points National
Center and Tim Mattson, Principal, Eastgate Middle School
Talent Development Middle School
Douglas MacIver, Senior Research Scientist
Center for Research on Students Placed at Risk
Presenters Contact Information
Opportunities and Accountability to Leave No Child Behind in the Middle
Grades: An Examination of the No Child Left Behind Act
Cynthia G. Brown (Prepared for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, 2002)
On July 21-23, 2002 the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), in partnership
with the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform (National Forum) and the
Urban Middle-Grades Reform Network sponsored a small working conference of about
75 representatives of state departments of education, national education organizations,
local school systems, and advocacy groups to consider the opportunities provided by the
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The conference was held in Washington, DC. It was
supported through generous grants to CCSSO from the Edna McConnell Clark, the Bill
and Melinda Gates, the W.K. Kellogg and the Ewing Marian Kauffman Foundations.
The goal of the conference was to stimulate renewed and deeper efforts to improve the
quality of middle grade education through the use of new federal tools and funds. The
three organizations, in consultation with each other, identified for invitation to the
conference members of their networks committed to middle grade reform who were
located in positions where they could leverage NCLB Act opportunities into action in
districts and states in the near future and agreeable to conference follow-up when they
returned home. Several invitees were also plenary and workshop presenters.
Conference evaluations were overwhelmingly positive about the value of the conference
Over parts of three days and with the assistance of expert presentations and peer learning
discussions, conference participants gained new knowledge and considered strategies to
accelerate and sustain improvement in the school learning environments of adolescent
students. What follows is an edited summary of the key remarks presented during the
conference. Some remarks are more extensive than others. They are all useful and
Hopeful Once Again
Conference Opening Remarks of Hayes Mizell, Director of the Program for Student
Achievement at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.
A few people in this room have hoped since 1965 that high poverty schools would use
federal aid to education funds to significantly improve the academic achievement of low-
performing students. In some schools this has happened. Determined and
entrepreneurial educators have creatively used Federal funds to provide students
supplementary, effective educational experiences. There is also no question that during
the past 37 years, millions of students, most of them at the elementary level, have
benefited from a wide variety of additional services made possible by federal assistance.
But for nearly all those years, the primary emphasis was on simply providing more
education. There was no imperative for this education to result in major gains in student
Hopeful once again, we are here to explore how middle level schools can use the most
recent incarnation of federal aid, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB Act), to improve
radically the achievement of low-performing students. We might say that this law is not
your mother’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For the first time, the statute
establishes the ambitious goal that by the year 2014, all students completing the eighth
grade should perform at what their states’ define as the “proficient” level. In addition,
schools have to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” towards meeting this goal.
To have any hope of reaching the goal, school systems and schools will have to use the
funds available under the NCLB Act in more dramatically effective ways than they have
previously used Federal aid to education funds. The NCLB Act is not quite seven months
old. There is a lot we do not know about it. Even U.S. Department of Education officials
responsible for overseeing the law’s implementation have not completely resolved all the
complexities of interpretation inherent in the NCLB Act. However, there are some things
we do know:
• We know that states, school systems, and schools will not meet the NCLB
Act’s student performance goal unless the U.S. Department of Education
enforces this law more vigorously and consistently than it has previous
versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
• We know that school systems will not meet the goal if they use the NCLB
Act as a slush fund to reinstate favorite but unproven programs they
curtailed because of cuts in state education funding.
• We know that the state and local use of NCLB Act funds will be driven
not only by professional judgments about the most effective means to
increase student performance, but by personal preferences, wishful
thinking, political priorities, and advocacy by many different education
related institutions, and non-profit and for-profit vendors.
• We know that states and school systems will not meet the NCLB Act’s
student performance goal if they do not begin now to devote significantly
more attention and resources to the middle grades.
• We know that middle schools will not meet the goal if they take a shotgun
approach to using their bounty of NCLB Act funds to, as one principal
said, build up his school’s ropes course, buy books for every classroom,
purchase more computers and pay for the after-school program that just
lost its funding.
• Above all, we know that even though the NCLB Act requires
unprecedented collaboration, coordination, and public reporting, this will
mean very little if advocates for more effective middle level education do
not use these provisions to engage state and local education officials in
conversations about their use of NCLB funds, and if they do not monitor
the results of the decisions these officials make.
For all these reasons, we approach our exploration of the NCLB soberly, as well as
hopefully. We are excited by the law’s vision of educators enabling all students, across
all demographic groupings, to perform proficiently, and we are grateful for the law’s
provisions that have the potential to spur and support educators to bring that vision to
Our purpose here is to focus on the opportunities that the NCLB Act provides to improve
education in the middle grades. We are not here to flail against what we do not like about
the law or to debate controversies about the law’s assessment, accountability, or school
choice provisions. While you will have the opportunity to learn about some
comprehensive school reform designs, this is not a competition among these designs. We
are also not here to tout our favorite curricular or instructional interventions. Rather, we
are here to learn how we can use the NCLB Act to enable all students, not just some
students, to perform proficiently by the end of the eighth grade in 2014.
As we thought about who could help us gain greater insight into the opportunities the
NCLB Act provides middle level educators, we had several choices. We could have
asked someone who has conducted research demonstrating that high-poverty schools can
indeed help all their students perform at high levels. We could have asked someone who
understands the challenges and potential of middle level schools. We could have asked
someone knowledgeable about the NCLB Act and intimately familiar with the law’s
requirements and how states will likely administer it. Fortunately, the cards of fate fell
our way and we found one person with all these characteristics.
That person is Joe Johnson. Joe has only recently left his position at the U.S. Department
of Education where he was Director of Student Achievement and School Accountability
Programs (formerly the Office of Compensatory Education Programs) in the Office of
Elementary and Secondary Education. Before coming to the Department, Joe was the
Director of District Support and Services at the Charles A. Dana Center at the University
of Texas. While there, he organized and directed studies of high-performing/high-
poverty schools and districts. Prior to his tenure at the Dana Center, Joe was a Senior
Director at the Texas Education Agency where he directed state and federal education
programs, including Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The Promise and Opportunities Afforded by the No Child Left Behind
Act, if Taken.
Remarks of Joseph Johnson, Special Assistant to the Ohio Superintendent of Public
Instruction and former Director of the Office of Compensatory Education, the office
administering Title I in the U.S. Department of Education.
PowerPoint Presentation: The Promise and Opportunities Afforded by the No Child
Left Behind Act
While at the University of Texas Dana Center, I studied schools and school districts that
were very successful in improving student achievement in the context of Texas’s
education reform. Many school districts were using the Texas legislation in a way that
allowed them to achieve spectacular results. But, in contrast, there were schools in
districts just a few miles down the road, which sat in that same policy context, but were
doing, generally, nothing.
Some school and district leaders looked at the policy environment and focused on all the
problems, issues, and shortcomings. They could cite dissertations full of evidence as to
why the legislation was not going to work. In a district next door or a school down the
road, however, there was a leader who thought,
Hmmm. . . . I can use this. I can shape one piece in a way that will create
a real urgency for improvement within our school. I can take another
piece and work it to improve the capacity of folks within my district to
improve teaching and learning. I can use a third piece as a catalyst to help
us shape one strategy focused on children instead of going in multiple
No matter how much money they are offered, some people will respond with multiple
reasons why the NCLB Act will cause pain for them. Others will see the opportunities.
It is very wise that your conference organizers chose to shape it around the opportunities
within the NCLB Act to substantially improve teaching and learning. This legislation can
be a tool to support improved achievement throughout America’s middle schools.
I encourage you to read through the paper that Cindy Brown prepared. She examines
multiple opportunities associated with this legislation. There is no way today that I can
address them all. So please look upon her paper as a reference.
I will discuss six opportunities in the NCLB Act:
1. Continued Emphasis on Academic Standards.
The NCLB Act provides the opportunity to keep focused on standards. Many
states have developed challenging academic standards that delineate what
children should know and be able to do in middle schools. But those standards
are not necessarily taught. If they are not taught, they are not making any
difference. This legislation insists upon doing a better job of teaching standards
in ways that result in all students learning them.
There is also a strong focus in the legislation on alignment with the standards. It
insists that all elements of the system begin to work in a coherent way aimed at
getting students to achieve the standards. For example, professional development
and teacher certification should be connected to the standards. Assessment should
relate directly to them. There is an opportunity for standards to be the central
organizer for the efforts to improve teaching and learning.
In addition to horizontal alignment, there is also the opportunity to focus on
vertical alignment and to be sure that middle grade students leave well prepared to
go onto high school and succeed. If the attainment of middle grade standards does
not prepare students to take courses that allow them continued opportunities in
high school and beyond, then there is a problem with middle grade standards.
Within this legislation, there are many opportunities to become lovers of data. By
delving into their data, school officials can explore their strengths and
opportunities to improve.
The NCLB Act requires annual testing of students throughout the middle grades.
The previous federal legislation required an assessment at only three points in a
student’s academic career, which could completely miss middle school years in
some states. Consequently, there was not necessarily feedback about
opportunities to improve or the need to refocus. Children were falling through the
There is controversy about this. Some people say the new law requires too much
testing. When I am asked if I agree, my response is that if you test a child only
once in grades K through 12 and the results are not used to improve instruction,
then that is too much testing. The issue is not the frequency of testing. The issue
is how regularly is testing data used to improve instruction?
Many states are asking for help since publishers have often controlled test
development and result reporting. A publisher might say, “The soonest we can
get you your data is December.” The state says “okay.” But it should not.
Publishers need to get creative about how to get business. When one state says
okay, the publisher “can playgames” among the states.
Some states are currently meeting the NCLB Act testing requirements. This is not
impossible. It is essential if we want schools to use these data to improve
3. Focus on the Achievement of Each and Every Child
This legislation calls for greater focus on the achievement of each and every child.
There are no categorical exemptions. When it says that no child should be left
behind, it actually means no child. Every child should be moving closer and
closer to achieving proficiency on the standards regardless of race, ethnicity,
socioeconomic background, first language, migrant status, disability, or any other
demographic variable. The legislation says that systems of education should be
getting better and better at ensuring that every child will achieve the standards. If
they are not, then they are not living up to their potential.
This is a major change from the past. One Texas superintendent explained how:
Back then, we taught school like we were feeding the chickens.
When you feed the chickens, you strap on your bag of feed; you go
out into the yard; and you toss some seeds onto the ground. If the
chickens get it, fine; if they don’t get it, fine. After you’ve tossed
out your seed, you’re done for the day. That was the way school
was taught. Teachers strapped on their lesson plans, went into the
classroom, and tossed out some information. If the kids got it,
fine; if they did not get it, fine. After they had tossed out the
information, teachers were done for the day!
The superintendent continued that the difference between then and now is that
now teachers are not done until they know that each student has learned the lesson
and achieved what they wanted them to learn. He said, “If they’re not motivated
to learn it, then we motivate them. If they don’t have all the prerequisite skills to
learn it, then we get them the prerequisite skills. But we’re not done until they’ve
learned it.” The opportunity here is to take that spirit into every middle school
across this country with a focus on not just passing out information, but looking
for the evidence that says the job is not done if students have not learned.
4. School-wide Reform
Within the NCLB Act, there are important opportunities to pursue school-wide
reform. The largest opportunity comes through Title I.
A Title I school can be “a targeted-assistance school,” which means that services
must be targeted exclusively to those children who are determined eligible for
services. Because the targeting is just to eligible students, various “pull-out
programs” are used. In contrast, the other option is to create a school-wide
program. In a school-wide program, Title I dollars, as well as dollars from almost
every other federal education program, may be used in ways that will support
comprehensive, school-wide reform.
Under the new legislation, the criteria for becoming a school-wide program is
reduced so that any school where at least 40 percent of the students are low-
income is eligible. The overwhelming majority of Title I schools may become
school-wide programs. This is an important opportunity that, thus far, has been
I have asked many principals, “What are you doing differently now that you are a
school-wide program? They answer, ‘What do you mean?’ You have latitude to
use your resources in new and different ways. What are you doing now that you
weren’t doing before?” Often, they tell me, “Oh, now we’re serving all of the
kids.” They are taking what was ineffective for a small percentage of students
and spreading it out to everybody! That’s squandering the opportunity.
This legislation asks educators to think comprehensively about how to change
core academic instruction at the school level. This is not about tinkering, “adding
a little something” or “prettying up” an activity. It is about how to make
substantial improvements in teaching and learning in the classroom so that
students meet challenging academic standards.
I visit many schools and look at their improvement plans. Unfortunately, too
many are doing nothing that relates to classroom instruction. I have seen entire
school plans where I can not find the word “reading” or anything about improving
mathematics instruction. It is not because the school is doing so well in
mathematics. It is because of a mindset that, “We do reading over here, math
over here, and Title I over there.” This is ineffective. The new legislation
provides an opportunity to look for approaches with strong evidence of success
that is going to help improve poor academic instruction.
The NCLB Act states that schools pursuing the school-wide program opportunity
need to engage in one year of planning. This is an important opportunity that also
often gets squandered. Too often planning is very superficial:
On September 24 at 3:30 we had a meeting that lasted a half hour, and we looked at the numbers. Then we had a meeting on February 22nd
—nope, that was a holiday. February 21st. We had
another meeting in May, and boom, we’re done!
That is not the spirit of the school-wide planning requirement. The idea is to look
closely at the data on current levels of school performance to understand where
strengths are and what the needs are. Then school planners should use this
information to look at options by examining reform models, best practices, and
other successful schools. They should ask what is out there to help improve
substantially teaching and earning within their school.
5. Professional Development
The NCLB Act increases dramatically the emphasis on professional development.
The law pushes to get all personnel, especially in Title I schools, to be highly
qualified. It provides the opportunity to rethink what highly qualified means.
State officials should ask whether their current teacher and administrator
certification requirements attest to teachers’ ability to get students to achieve the
state standards, and if not, what role professional development should play.
The new law requires districts to set aside funds for professional development—
under Title I a minimum of five percent and at least 10% for schools identified as
in need of improvement. In addition, it dramatically modifies the Eisenhower
Professional Development Program. Those funds have been combined with the
funds previously allocated for the class size reduction program, and they all can
be used to improve teaching and learning through high quality, intensive,
professional development—not just for teachers, but also for principals. After at
least 20 years of research supporting the importance of school principals, the
federal government finally decided it would be a good thing to allow professional
development funds to be spent on them.
Importantly, the professional development funds are not limited to traditional
notions of professional development. For example, they can be used to recruit
and retain highly qualified teachers.
6. Parent engagement
Finally, within this legislation, there are greater opportunities to engage parents.
The legislation is pushing much further than the bake sale version of parental
There are new opportunities for engaging parents. First is this notion of school
choice. The legislation says that when children attend a school that has not made
adequate progress for two years in a row, it is a school in need of improvement.
Parents of children attending the school must have a choice to attend another
public school that is not in need of assistance.
Most parents who have children in such schools will probably not choose to send
their child to another school. But that is not the point. The point is the
opportunity to help parents see that they can use this choice option to be better
advocates for improvement within their home schools. They might say,
I know now that I’m not stuck sending my child to Smith Middle
School. I can go to Smith Middle School and say to the principal,
‘Okay. Tell me again about what we’re going to do to help make
sure that my child achieves proficiency with these standards next year because I’m trying to decide whether my child is going to stay
here or is going to go to a different school.’
This is an opportunity for a new dialogue. It gives parents a tool to help hold
educators accountable for doing well for their children.
A second tool for engaging parents involves supplemental services. Schools that
do not make adequate yearly progress for three years become eligible for
supplemental services. Parents of children attending those schools get the choice
of having their children participate in supplemental services—public or private
after school or summer programs—that are designed to help increase the
likelihood their child will succeed. In other words, the law says that if parents
choose to keep their child at a school not making adequate yearly progress, the
child has access to other services in the community that can increase the
likelihood the child will succeed.
For parents to use these resources well, they must have a good understanding of
what is going on. The legislation calls for school report cards to help parents
understand the extent to which children attending a school are achieving the
standards. But there is no piece of paper that will be adequate in communicating
to all parents everything that they need to know in order to adequately engage in
Outreach to parents must be rethought. It is important for parents to understand
how the whole system works. If they do not know what state and district
standards are, they will have a hard time engaging in a conversation about what is
being done to help their child achieve the standards. They need to know
something about the assessments their child has been given and how assessment
results have been used to determine if their school has or has not made adequate
There must to be a sustained, fairly intensive outreach to parents so that they
acquire the ability to be strong advocates for improvement within their children’s
schools. The NCLB Act requires that parents join in school-wide program
planning activity. School officials must educate parents so that they can fulfill
these roles well.
There are many opportunities within this legislation. If educators take advantage of them
with enthusiasm and gusto, the hassles and problems within the legislation will work
themselves out. Even if they do not, it is worth it when the children achieve at much
higher levels. This is the real goal.
As I approach my new work in Ohio, I am centered on these opportunities as well as
looking for other leverage points. I encourage you to do the same.
Questions and Answers
Question: Could you please elaborate on the testing requirements?
Answer: The key testing issue is the NCLB Act requirement that assessments be aligned
with the standards. The assessments must give valid and reliable information about the
extent to which students have achieved the standards. There are some standards that are
easily tested by more conventional assessments. There are others standards where that is
difficult but not impossible, and a few where it may be next to impossible. States will
have to make trade-offs as they figure out what they can realistically do, especially since
assessment results now must be provided before the beginning of the following school
year. This is especially challenging with the complex assessment grading of more
authentic performance-based assessments. But it is not impossible; some states are doing
As I study successful schools, I find that in the most successful ones, teachers have not
focused narrowly on getting a testing outcome. They have focused more squarely on
getting students to develop such a deep, thorough, lasting understanding of the standards
that it did not matter whether students were tested with multiple choice, constructive
response, or open-ended items. Their students did well on all.
Some teachers view testing as an either/or game--either working with students to do well
on the test or doing a good job of teaching them the standards. If it is an either/or game,
children lose. In one way, children are not learning the standards if teachers are doing a
lot of drill and teaching of test strategies. Students miss the desired deep, rich
knowledge. In the other way, sight is lost of opportunities to ensure that all children and
all demographic groups of children are learning well.
There was no either/or in very successful schools. Teachers looked at the standards
embedded in the assessments and asked themselves, “What are the best teaching
strategies to ensure that our students will develop a strong understanding of the standard
as measured by somebody else’s assessment?” When their students benefited from rich
instruction, which ended only when a teacher-based assessment demonstrated that the
students fully understood the body of information, teachers had confidence that their
students would do well on any assessments.
Question: How will the NCLB Act help to lessen tracking and special attention to the
brightest and most affluent students?
Answer: The legislation focuses not only on whether individual schools are making
adequate yearly progress, but also on whether districts are making adequate yearly
progress. Tracking and extra resources for some students is largely a district issue.
School boards decide where resources go. District officials have often favored the
schools that board members represent rather than all the schools.
Under the new legislation whole school districts will be identified as in need of
improvement if they do not educate well all demographic groups of students within their
district. Every district, like every school, will receive a rating based on its lowest-
performing group. Some districts will probably be slow learners. Others will be faster
learners and say,
Hmmm, if we don’t want our public, which has traditionally thought of us
as a good school district, to get the news that we’re a low-performing
district, then we’re going to have to do a better job with those schools that
we have not traditionally served well. So how are we going to do that?
There are other powerful provisions in the legislation that have not yet received much
attention. For example, each district must submit to the state a consolidated plan for its
federal programs. The plan must explain district action to ensure that its highest poverty
schools get high quality teachers in the same proportion as its more affluent schools.
This is a huge change. Federal legislation has previously ignored this issue. States can
use their monitoring opportunities to highlight such issues. Many districts will be
unaware of issues and not address them unless states bring the requirements of the
legislation to their attention.
Question: What supplemental services might parents choose?
Answer: Each state will be required to establish a list of eligible service providers. The
list must include programs that have demonstrated a level of success in getting students to
achieve the standards. Parents whose children attend a school that has not made adequate
yearly progress for three years will then have the opportunity to choose from services on
the list. A variety of both public and private programs may be on the list.
Question: My question is also about the supplemental services issue. The discussion has
been about agencies that tie their work to standards. There are many community
agencies that address other developmental assets that kids need to be successful in school.
Will there be an opportunity to draw from these funds in order for schools to build better
community partnerships with such agencies and to help them define their work and have
it supplemented? There are many community agencies that believe they are helping, but
they are not helping with what we need. Will it be possible to help these agencies better
define their work?
Answer. Yes, but in order to realize this opportunity, people will need to be creative.
There are expanded opportunities to support after-school programs through 21 st Century
Community Learning Center grants. The funds will be state-administered and states will
conduct competitions. Community-based organizations are now eligible to be providers
of those services. There is nothing to prohibit—and everything to encourage—but
nothing to require community-based organizations to take advantage of 21st Century
program approaches and apply them as supplemental services providers. Such marriages
could create wonderfully powerful programs. The opportunity is there, but there is
nothing that is going to require it.
Question: My observation is that as long as a district produces results, bottom line,
nobody is going to look at exactly how it spends the dollars. This whole legislation is
about results. You have pointed out the wonderful opportunities for professional
development. It must be content-specific; it must be research-based and scientifically
proven. To do this kind of professional development is very challenging. My assertion is
that many districts will opt to use the money for recruitment and retention efforts rather
than directing new dollars into professional development. The bottom line is that we
could see fewer dollars for professional development than we saw with the old Title II
Eisenhower program. What do you think?
Answer: In terms of your first observation, low performing schools and districts will
probably absorb all of the states’ time. So your first point is probably on target. Schools
and districts that are achieving good results are not likely to receive much attention.
I disagree in part with your second point. People will probably use their own lenses to
judge what is research-based because I doubt there will be much direction from the
federal government about what is and is not allowable. People are not likely to read the
legislative language in the restrictive way that you articulated. I agree it will be hard for
people to change dramatically how they use these dollars. My real worry is that in many
places, officials will use the Title II dollars to do the same thing with math and science
that they were doing before because the previous Eisenhower program director will now
direct the Title II professional development program. Hopefully, there will be a nice mix
of new professional development that moves in appropriate directions.
I hope that educators will be primarily focused on the urgency to improve teaching and
learning. They might say, “Wait a minute. We must really do something better in terms
of teaching and learning, in order for our school to make the substantial progress that is
required. What’s going to help us get there?” Then they will logically pursue
professional development activities and approaches that will support those reform efforts.
If they do not focus in this new direction, it will be an opportunity lost.
Question: How does the NCLB Act affect special education?
Answer: Special education must become “special”. In too many places, it has not been.
Officials have told parents that their children qualify for assistance and then placed them
in programs that they know, or at least should have known, have little likelihood of
getting students to achieve state standards. This will need to change. Like everything
else about this legislation, to do this well requires learning and applying new strategies
Improving Middle Grade Schools with District and State Funds through the
No Child Left Behind Act
Remarks by Cindy Brown, Conference Coordinator and Independent Consultant
Two of the most important elements in the NCLB Act are the emphasis on extra help for
struggling students, schools, and districts, and seriousness about spending well the
significantly increased federal dollars. In my paper about the opportunities provided by
the Act to strengthen schools with middle grades, I listed the specific strategies
mentioned throughout the law. It is a long list. Members of Congress were very
determined to write into law the strategies that they thought would work to significantly
improve low-performing schools. This is very different from the previous 35 years.
There is no question that research has identified much more of what works, and that
Congress is much more serious about guiding local educators in the directions that do
We are fortunate to have with us two leaders who have engaged in major efforts to help
low-performing schools and districts. They have used many strategies identified by
Congress. Susan Sclafani helped designed the NCLB Act in her role as Counselor to the
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. But she has done much prior to this. As
the Chief of Staff for Educational Services in the Houston Independent School District,
she initiated, together with Rod Paige, and managed numerous, intensive efforts to help
low-performing schools. Houston is the biggest school district in Texas, and its gains
made with low-income, Latino and African-American youngsters contributed greatly to
the state-wide achievement gains the state has realized. Sclafani has much to share about
how to do it as well as knowledge of the tools and strategies that the NCLB Act provides.
Marvin Pittman, the Senior Assistant to the North Carolina Superintendent of Public
Instruction, also joins us. North Carolina, like Texas, has seen tremendous improvements
in African-American and low-income student achievement. It has a very focused
program of assistance to struggling schools and districts. Pittman has been leading the
major North Carolina effort to close the achievement gap. He has a very sophisticated
understanding of its causes and complex characteristics.
Using NCLB Act Funds to Improve Low Performing Middle Grade and Other
Remarks by Susan Sclafani, Counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of
Education and former Chief of Staff for Educational Services in the Houston
Independent School District.
The NCLB Act is probably the most fundamental reform of education in the last 40 years.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first passed in 1965, was very specific about addressing equity and excellence. Congress created a federal role in
education because it believed, particularly in the beginnings of the civil rights movement,
that education gaps were unacceptable. It concluded the federal government had a role in
closing the gap and provided additional funds for children who were economically and/or
educationally disadvantaged. These two conditions too often are still synonymous in this country.
The NCLB Act goes farther than the 1994 reauthorization of ESEA for several reasons.
A major one is that its deadlines had been largely ignored. The 1994 reauthorization
required states to create rigorous content standards and to establish student performance
standards--what students should know and be able to do. It also required states to
develop a set of assessments aligned with the standards and an accountability system that
included most children in the state. The deadline for all this was June of 2001, but few
states met it completely.
Between 1994 and 2001, another generation of children went through elementary school
and started middle school, or those who were finishing elementary school went through
middle school and high school, without a system that ensured they had an adequate
opportunity to learn. With its future society, the nation can not afford to do this to its
children. In 1950, professional workers filled 20% of jobs; skilled workers filled 20%;
and unskilled workers filled 60%. By 2000, this had changed dramatically. Still 20% of
jobs are professional, but 65% are skilled, and 15% unskilled. There are few jobs for
young people if they are not educated well. We will not continue to be the America that
we want to be—and should be—if we do not prepare our young people for highly skilled
positions. We must also prepare young people for citizenship decisions that they will
need to make and that are far more sophisticated than ever before.
A moral imperative lies behind the NCLB Act. It is an imperative felt by the President.
He sees the Secretary often and regularly asks what is working; what is not working;
where are we; what do we need to do? This is a personal commitment on his part. The
Secretary of Education came to Washington at half his Houston salary because he too has
a personal commitment to work at the national level and ensure that something better
happens for 54 million students rather than just the 210,000 in Houston.
There are four big principles in the NCLB Act:
When Rod Paige arrived as Secretary of Education, he was told there were only 15 states
in compliance—not a sterling rating. Congress had this very much in mind as it wrote
the reauthorization. It concluded it could not count on the goodwill of states to
implement the law appropriately.
The NCLB Act is very clear about accountability. It goes further than previous
legislation. It provides new testing requirements for grades 3 through 8. This will help and challenge middle school educators. The students going into middle grades will be
better educated in future years. Their teachers will have known about their progress
because they had assessment results for them. They will have learned their students’
strengths and weaknesses and seen what year-to-year achievement gains have been. This
will ratchet up the quality of teaching and learning in elementary schools.
The Act is also challenging because now middle grade schools will be accountable for the
annual progress of their students. Indeed, people will know where students were when
they left fifth grade and what progress they make in each middle grade. They will ask
teachers and principals, “What are you going to do if significant numbers of your
children are not achieving at the grade level where they ought to be?”
This question will not be asked just about the aggregate. For the first time, the Act says
school and district accountability scores are based on the lowest performing
subpopulation on the theory that an entity is no stronger than the weakest link in its chain.
A school cannot be great unless all student groups are doing well. This is how it should
be. Why should anyone get to decide that any children do not count because they are
economically disadvantaged; members of a particular minority, ethnic, or racial groups;
limited English proficient, or students with disabilities? What educator has a right to tell
parents that he or she decided their child was not important enough to educate well?
The NCLB Act says that educators are responsible for the progress, year in and year out,
of all subpopulations. Schools will be rated based on the performance of their students.
States must establish adequate yearly progress targets for each school that will result in
100% of their students being assessed as proficient in 12 years. There is a safe harbor
that was suggested by schools with large numbers of children who come to them well
below grade level. They were concerned about being able to meet those targets each and
every year. This provision says that if you reduce the number of children in the
subpopulation who are not making adequate yearly progress by at least 10 percent, the
school will be counted as having made adequate yearly progress. It recognizes that some
schools are going to be far more challenged than others. But it does not give up on the
idea that all children must be taught to high levels of learning if they are to have a
positive future in this country.
The NCLB Act requires that the annual assessments provide credible data about
children’s achievement. District officials must prepare principals, assistant principals,
teachers, and parents to understand and use this rich data. The assessment data ought to
guide how schools plan their curriculum and strategies and determine individual
professional development needs of teachers. The wonderful part about annual data is that
it is longitudinal data. For example, if a math teacher in seventh grade sees that her
children are consistently missing specific objectives, it is not because of the weaknesses
of the children. It is probably the result of the teaching strategies she used or her
knowledge of content objectives.
This happens to wonderful teachers as well as to poorer teachers. In Houston there was a
teacher who had every child mastering all objectives but one. All the children had the
same wrong answer. When the math supervisor talked with the teacher, and asked, “What do you think this objective is asking?” she gave the wrong answer. She did not
know. She thought it was asking something other than what it was and she taught that
very well, as she had everything else, so that every child got the same wrong answer.
The second major change in the NCLB Act is local control of flexibility. The federal
government will not tell districts and schools how to meet the law’s objectives. There is
no one answer that would be equally appropriate for remote school districts in Alaska and
for New York City. This seems like an obvious point. However, in the past Congress
and Administrations have sometimes decided that they knew best. The class size
reduction program is the best example. Class size reduction works wonderfully when
there is space and an abundance of highly qualified teachers. But if both are missing,
some children will be in trouble. It is better to have 35 children in the classroom of a
highly qualified teacher than to remove half and put them with a substitute teacher
because no other highly qualified teacher could be hired. While it sounded like a great
idea, and the public resonates to class size reduction, the truth is it does not always work.
For example, in California the state put in additional dollars and discovered that Los
Angeles Unified lost many of its highly qualified teachers to suburban openings and left
urban children with substitutes.
The third change is parental choice. The new law says parents will play a greater role in
education decisions for their children. When a school is identified as in need of
improvement because it failed to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive
years, parents have a choice of saying, “My child needs a better school, and I want to opt
for another school in the district that is higher performing.” If they so choose, federal
funds must pay for the transportation. Many places already offer choice, but without
transportation. Choice is not an option for many parents who are lower income, working,
and unable to transport their children to another choice location.
If parents choose to keep their child in the same school and the next year the school is
still low performing, the Act requires that they have the opportunity to get supplemental
services for their child. Local educators need to help their state identify groups within the
community that can provide high quality tutorial assistance to children after school,
before school, on Saturdays, or whenever there is available time.
The opportunity to provide supplemental services is for organizations that have evidence
they can, in fact, provide high quality services for children. It could include local
congregations with retired teachers who were very high performing in their own career
and now want to offer an after-school program. It could be a for-profit company that
advertises regularly. It could be the school system if there are not others. But it cannot
be a school or school system that is, itself, in need of improvement.
Research-based Strategies and Programs
The fourth NLCB Act principle is doing what works (i.e., using the research). This is a
challenge also. The Act mentions in 111 places the use of scientifically based research.
We only have “gold standard” research in reading. It does not exist in other subject areas yet. There are beginnings in mathematics. Over the next several years the Department of
Education will fund a rigorous research agenda in partnership with the National Science
Foundation, the National Research Council, and others in science, mathematics, social
studies and adolescent reading.
The “gold standard” in reading means there are scientifically based models. They were
studied with random assignment and replicated. The research has identified five
components that are absolutely essential for good reading programs. The Department of
Education is telling states that they must choose from programs with those components.
States in turn must tell districts to include them in their reading program if they want
federal reading funds. Reading First provides almost an extra billion dollars annually to
improve the quality of reading instruction in grades one, two, and three.
The same level of research does not exist in other areas. This is true even for the
comprehensive school reform models. Some research indicates they are helpful, but there
is no random assignment study yet that spells out what specific actions lead to desired
results. This is what is needed. There is a lot of qualitative research in education. There
are also correlation studies that say, “When this happens, this happens.” But they are not
causal. Random assignment studies are needed to show cause.
For example, many career academies were evaluated on the basis of how their students
did compared to the other students in the same high school. “Surprise, surprise,” the ones
in the career academy did a lot better. Why? They chose the program; they were
selected for the program; they had specially selected teachers and curriculum; and they
did very well. But MDRC did a random assignment study comparing students who
applied divided into two groups of accepted and non-accepted on the basis of space.
There was now a control group of students who did not get accepted. They were
compared over five years with the students who were accepted and went through the
career academy. MDRC found no significant difference between the two groups. At the
end of five years, the students who would have been in the academies if there had been
space for them did just as well as those students who completed the academies. They
were motivated students who together with motivated parents looked for and found other
opportunities to do similar things. This is why it is so critical to not just base decisions
on correlation studies. It is much harder to demonstrate that A caused B.
The Department will provide a database of what works. It will identify if a study is
simply a correlation or is really rigorous research that reached the same conclusions.
What Does This Mean for Middle Grade Educators?
1. A school must focus on its own data. Such data can provide much information
about what does and does not work at the school. It indicates what student needs
are. Then the principal and teachers should identify the programs that appear to
work well with the school’s mix of children with particular learning gaps.
2. Teacher quality is also a critical issue. The term “highly qualified teacher” is
used throughout the Act. Title IX defines highly qualified primarily as
“certified.” It will be a challenge for districts to find enough people who meet the
qualifications. For example, in middle schools, 40 % of teachers do not have
more than 10 or 12 credits in math or science. Many are teaching on a K-8
certification, but are not certified in math or science. They do not have the
necessary subject area depth. It will be a challenge between now and 2005 to get
them highly qualified. They need to be taught the content so that they can in turn
teach it to their students. Experience in Houston showed that it is necessary to
provide content knowledge seminars, with university professors, for middle grade
math and science teachers in order to increase the quality of student performance.
In Houston the math percentile passing rate increased from the 30s to the 80s in
middle school just by teaching teachers mathematics. If teachers are not given
math training, they will continue to teach arithmetic. Middle grade math
assessments are not based on arithmetic. They expect students to have developed
a higher level conceptual understanding of mathematics and to understand some
algebra and geometry, as well as arithmetic.
3. Clustering is important. Large middle schools need to be broken into smaller
clusters so that children are well known. It is absolutely critical to personalize
education for middle grade children. There should also be an advisor/advisee
system with ideally one adult who meets regularly, one-on-one, with each student.
Often adding a period to the day can do that. Sometimes it is too expensive.
Block schedules help free up teacher time for this.
4. Help students make the connections from one subject to another. Do not assume
that interdisciplinary units will be any less rigorous in the content than they would
have been if they were taught as an individual subject. It is hard to do. It takes
teachers who know their content well coming together to plan the
State Use of NCLB Act Funds to Assist Low Performing Schools
Remarks by Marvin Pittman, Senior Assistant to the North Carolina Superintendent for
Public Instruction and Elsie Leak, Director of School Improvement, North Carolina
Department of Public Instruction
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction assistance program for low-
performing schools is very similar to the NCLB Act requirements. North Carolina has a
very comprehensive system of accountability.
In the past the state gave students the California Achievement Test and sent a report card on the results to school districts. But a district-level report card lumps everybody
together. Consequently, in 1992, the state started to develop its own test. It was called
the Inner-grade Testing Program and was used for grades three through eight in
mathematics, reading, and writing. End- of-course tests were developed for grades four
and seven, and at the high school level.
However, there still was not a good handle on the performance of children in each school.
Therefore in 1996, the state adopted the ABC of Public Education program. A stood for
accountability; B was the basics; and C was for local control. The state did not tell
schools what to do, but did hold them accountable for student progress. Using a
sophisticated statistical analysis, the state set a growth goal for every school by which
schools could be measured against themselves.
Every school was expected to improve. If a school exceeded its growth goal by ten
percent, it was called an exemplary growth school. In schools that met their growth goal,
certified teachers received a bonus of $750 and non-certified staff about half as much. In
an exemplary growth school, teachers received $1,500 and non-certified staff $750.
When a school did not meet its growth goal and more than 50 percent of its children were
below grade level, it was called low performing.
The model is built on growth. Some schools left off the growth part and started calling
themselves “exemplary.” They did not “get it.” E
Council of Chief State School Officers:
The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES