Salter says schools to face 'failing label' if NCLB renewed
As reported, this is a curiously mixed message. Fight NCLB or finesse it?
By Bayne Hughes
If Congress renews No Child Left Behind next year, a majority of schools will face a "failing label," said Susan Salter, director of member services for the Alabama Association of School Boards.
She spoke Monday night to a meeting of District 8 school board members at Decatur's Holiday Inn.
The goal of the NCLB law is for every child to perform at grade level in reading and math by 2013.
"The critics will use this as proof that public education needs to be abandoned," Salter said at the meeting of county and city boards from Colbert, Cullman, Franklin, Morgan, Lawrence, Limestone, Lauderdale and Winston counties.
"But, if we surprise everyone and hit the targets, the critics are going to say we adjusted the testing and cheated to hit the targets. We can't win," she continued.
Salter gave the board members five messages she said they should relay to their communities:
# School are "facing very high stakes" accountability testing, particularly regarding special-education students, students with limited English proficiency and low-income students, all of whom traditionally were not held to high standards.
She said schools face an all-or-nothing prospect of pass-fail, with no gray areas, which could mean a loss of students, requirements to spend money on tutors or a loss of money and jobs.
# The law isn't perfect, and it doesn't give schools more tools to analyze and improve performance. Salter said school officials should use test scores to find and improve on weaknesses. She said school board members should make sure their systems spend money on the right instructional plans and staffing to improve their test data.
"Use it like a doctor uses a medical test, not as an autopsy," Salter said. "And tell the taxpayers this is what we're spending their tax dollars on."
# The framers of NCLB felt special education was one of the areas in which schools need to challenge students more, Salter said. So, except for about 1 percent of the students who can take an alternative test, more special education students will be held to the same standards as regular education students. Currently, a student with an IQ of 55 or less can take the alternative assessment.
Salter said the U.S. Department of Education is considering raising the percentage allowed to take the test and the IQ number.
# Board members shouldn't "get bogged down with the controversy of the moment." While hiring a superintendent is a board's No. 1 duty, she said board members should focus on academic achievement and making sure the schools are doing the things they should to meet NCLB requirements.
# Parental involvement is critical to the success of the schools in meeting the federal requirements, particularly at Title 1 schools.
Salter said parental involvement is more than volunteering at the school. She said schools and teachers need to develop lines of communication with parents on academics, even if they must set up literacy classes to teach a parent how to tutor a child in a certain subject.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES