Local school leaders reflect on No Child Left Behind
One wonders why the results of a single test score holds so much weight. This is professional malpractice.
By Allison Mather
PASCAGOULA -- According to a recently released report, the No Child Left Behind Act is having a greater impact on the everyday activities of schools and districts, including prompting districts to better align instruction and state standards and more effectively use test data to adjust teaching.
The Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm, is tracking federal, state and local implementation of the law President Bush signed into effect four years ago. The act increased educational accountability of schools, school districts and states.
The report included a survey of education officials in every state, a nationally representative survey of 299 school districts and in-depth case studies in 38 geographically diverse districts and 42 individual schools.
Pascagoula School District was the only Mississippi school district studied by the center.
Susan McLaurin, director of federal programs for Pascagoula and Gautier schools, is responsible for compliance to NCLB.
"This year we've just been so focused on recovering from the storm," she said.
Nevertheless, NCLB has had major impacts on Pascagoula School District, even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. For example, school children who missed 27 instructional days while schools were closed after the storm will soon prepare for state standardized testing, which will take place in May. Those tests are one measure of accountability.
The administration of tests isn't the only change in local classrooms as a result of NCLB.
Before implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, McLaurin said, teachers and other school officials tended to judge educational success or failure based on the mean performance of a class or school. In other words, as long as a classroom of students was performing well as a whole, there wasn't data to indicate whether or not a few students were falling behind.
The documentation and testing requirements of NCLB show performance of the whole group as well as subgroups, breaking students down into categories based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sex, special education designation or disability.
"And so no child is invisible," McLaurin said. "Everyone is worried about every child."
The report also notes that officials in several case study districts nation wide, as well as some district survey respondents, feel the law has escalated pressure on teachers to a stressful level and is negatively affecting staff morale in some schools.
Shannon White, an eighth-grade teacher at Gautier Middle School, said NCLB hasn't exactly made the classroom more stressful.
"The main thing is that a lot of the ways we teach are different," she said. "Instead of teaching more textbook, we're worried about meeting those objectives the state has set out for us."
For example, students and schools must show improvement in certain subject areas in order to meet state standards of accreditation.
"It does focus on each child," White added. "We have to come back in and we have to document how we're helping each individual kid and what we're doing for them."
Teachers can use test results for each child to track that student's progress and determine how best to accommodate that child's educational needs.
"That's really important because a lot of times, kids feel like they're just being swept through," White said.
Opinions on the overall impact of NCLB are varied and complex. Even the intensive report doesn't define the law as a success or failure, said Jack Jennings, president of The Center on Education Policy.
"The effects of NCLB are complex, and this policy has both strengths and weaknesses," he said. "If anyone is looking for a simple judgment on NCLB, such as good' or bad,' they will not find it in this report."
The report is available online at http://www.cep-dc.org, and further explanation of the No Child Left Behind Act is available at the U.S. Department of Education Web site, www.ed.gov.
The Mississippi Press
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