No 'Child' Left Behind - or Something Else?
Ohanian Comment: I'd like to see Margaret Spellings proctor the exam for one of these severely disabled students. And then give her speech about "low expectations."
By Dr. Ronald L. Friedman, superintendent, Great Neck Public Schools
I'd like to combine two old, perhaps over-used, but nevertheless true sayings. The first simply states, "The devil is in the details." The other, equally pithy, is "No good deed goes unpunished." Exactly how, you might ask, do these statements relate to both the Great Neck Public Schools and also the federal No Child Left Behind requirements? The first and foremost feature of NCLB is its voracious and ever-increasing appetite for testing. Examine, evaluate and assess - more and more students each year, more and more grades, longer tests. NCLB has been around for several years now. However, in the past two years the test results have been subjected to a statistical process called "disaggregation." In other words, the Feds say, let's take the test results of a district such as Great Neck and break them down into subgroups. Let's look at every statistical breakdown we can - by gender, by ethnic group, by socioeconomic status, by disability. If, in even one subgroup, we can find that a district falls short in some way, let's place the district on a list. The technical name of the list is a list of districts that "failed to make AYP" (which stands for "Adequate Yearly Progress"). And therein lies the basis for the application of the two sayings I started out with, relative to Great Neck's history and the NCLB.
Let me begin this second paragraph with a strong blanket statement: the students of our district, the Great Neck Public Schools, scored very well, or even exceptionally well, on all NCLB tests and subtests. Our scores were for the most part outstanding. As you may know, this past week's Newsweek magazine ranked Great Neck's two large high schools (North and South) in the top 50 of high schools in the nation. We could go on and on. But - the devil's in the details. One rather arcane and detailed piece of information reported to the state/federal government is the percent of students with disabilities we actually tested. Here's what the "details" deal is. In the Great Neck public schools we had, in June 2004 and June 2005, 145 seniors with disabilities. We tested with English Regents, Math Regents, RCT tests, or New York State Alternate Assessments 120 of those students. We had no problem testing every Great Neck high school senior with a disability who attends our schools. But of the 145 seniors with disabilities over two years, we did not test 25 students. Those 25 students represent kids whom we've never tested with Regents or other academic measures. Every one of these students has a severe disability or multiple disabilities. All of them attend special schools. We are thrilled that many of them have made good progress under our own local, caring and compassionate version of No Child Left Behind.
Skills such as everyday living tasks, proper clothing and dressing, and in some cases, vocational skills, are being met with greater and greater success for these 25 youngsters. We did not subject these 25 severely disabled youngsters, who attend specialized public and private schools far from Great Neck, to paper and pencil Regents and relaxed exams. Why would we do that to them? I'll tell you why. Because an arcane feature of NCLB requires that we test at least 95 percent of the youngsters in every disaggregated subgroup. Simple math: 95 percent of 145 disabled students equals 138 students who must be tested. Herein lies the "no good deed goes unpunished" part of the equation. By not subjecting at least 18 of those 25 youngsters with severe disabilities to Regents or other related exams, we "fell short" on NCLB. So now, we have no practical choice.
This year, each and every youngster with a disability registered in our district, including those in far-away specialized schools, will somehow be tested. And the Feds and others who count every bean will be happy. NCLB-No Child Left Behind? The "C" surely doesn't stand for care or for compassion. Cruelty perhaps? Where is the common sense? Oh, I forget. In our district, we pride ourselves on trying to meet the needs of the individual child. Federal rules are made by more powerful people and forces than we have here. I'll conclude, if you will indulge me, with yet another cliché: not seeing the forest for the trees.
Dr. Ronald L. Friedman
Great Neck Record
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES