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NCLB Outrages

Oregon education officials focus on NCLB pitch

Ohanian Comment; Is this more than shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic? Washington officials seem intent on keeping educrats busy so no one has time to think about revolting--forcing D. C. to recognize the real areas where children are left behind. Go the Children's Defense Fund website and look at where we stand among industrialized nations on how we treat children.

By Julia Silverman

SALEM — Almost from the moment U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced that a select handful of states would be chosen to pilot a new approach toward measuring student progress under the No Child Left Behind law, Oregon threw its hat into the ring.

But even that may not have been soon enough.

With only a month remaining before proposals are due, education officials in Oregon are scrambling to ready their pitch, which centers on allowing the state to track the performance of individual students over time in order to measure a school’s success — or lack thereof.

Currently, in Oregon and elsewhere, test scores from the third-graders of 2004 are compared with the test scores of third-graders of 2005; if the 2005 kids turn in significantly higher scores, the school passes muster with the federal government.

Officials in Oregon, though, had long argued that such a system compared apples to oranges, and it would be better to compare the third-graders of 2004 with the fourth-graders of 2005 — the same group of kids.

Spellings, who has been fending off criticism that the federal law is flawed and is facing what promises to be a tough reauthorization battle in Congress next year, agreed in late November to allow 10 states to pilot such a “growth model.’’ But she gave states only a short window to craft their proposals, with a due date of Feb. 17.

Oregon’s plan is starting to come together, Pat Burk, chief policy officer for the state Department of Education, said Tuesday at a meeting of district officials, education activists and political aides, and the state is lucky to already have some key pieces in place, including a statewide database that allows for the tracking of a student’s academic progress.

But difficult questions remain, such as how to determine just how much growth is enough for a school to pass muster under No Child Left Behind, which requires 100 percent of students to be reading, writing and doing math and science at grade level by 2014.

To answer that question, the state has to pull off a tricky balancing act. State officials are wary of being accused of trying to mask the performance of students who traditionally score lower on standardized tests, like those who are learning to speak English, or those who come from a poor family.

But they want to be able to credit schools that have seen big testing improvements among such students from one year to the next, even if those same students haven’t yet hit target performance levels.

Ultimately, taking individual student progress into account might wind up reducing the number of schools that are publicly listing as “needing improvement’’ in the federal government’s eyes.

Listed schools — and there were more than 300 in Oregon alone last year — that also receive federal money are subject to a spiraling list of sanctions, from paying for tutoring for students all the way to a state takeover, if students fail to show improvement over a number of years.

So far, the plan is for the state to use a model that doesn’t allow for “correction’’ — that is, making statistical adjustments for factors like ethnicity, or poverty, said Joseph Stevens, an education professor from the University of Oregon who is consulting with the state on their proposal.

Burk said the state is also waiting on some guidance from the U.S. Department of Education in certain areas, such as whether any model that tracks individual student progress would have to track their testing performance not only in reading and math, but in another academic subject, such as science.

Oregon will know in April whether its petition to consider growth is approved. If permission is granted, individual student progress would be factored into the No Child Left Behind results calculated for the 2005-2006 school year.

— Julia Silverman
Corvallis Gazette-Times


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