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NCLB Outrages


by Harold Reutter

Kearney -- "Hello, I'm Doug Christensen and I'm not approved."

That's how Christensen, Nebraska commissioner of education, joked he
felt he should begin his opening address to superintendents, principals
and other school officials during Administrators' Day in Kearney.

But Christensen promised the more than 600 school officials who gathered
in Kearney Wednesday that Nebraska's system of assessing student
achievement would be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Nebraska is one of only two states -- Maine is the other -- whose
assessment systems have been designated "not approved" by the U.S.
Department of Education under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Christensen alternately cracked jokes about the situation and criticized
federal officials for the action.

He said he believes the U.S. Department of Education designation has
caused a great deal of public confusion over the situation in Nebraska.

He assured people the "not approved" label has nothing to do with the
assessments themselves. Christensen said Nebraska is "not approved"
because it must provide documentation of the technical quality of its

Christensen and other officials in the Nebraska Department of Education
have always known they must provide that documentation.

He said the NDE originally had an agreement with the U.S. Department of
Education to provide that documentation by the 2007-08 school year. He
said federal education officials moved that date up to the 2006-07
school year.

Nebraska's "not approved" status occurred because federal officials did
not believe the state could meet that deadline. Christensen said the NDE
can comply with the deadline.

He said a timeline of Nebraska's plan to prove that it has high quality
assessments can be found on the NDE Web site at www.nde.state.ne.us.
That online document promises to provide most of the documentation by
Sept. 30 , while providing the remaining proof by June 15, 2007.

Christensen said he is most disappointed not in what No Child Left
Behind currently is, but that it is not living up to what it could become.

He said the whole point of school reform should be "excellence and
equity," which means high standards while trying to reach every student.

Christensen said he is afraid that NCLB has become more about compliance
and looking good than about improving student achievement.

Christensen said one state has won praise for doing particularly well on
the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. However, that
praise overlooks the fact that 19 percent of the state's students are
excluded from taking the NAEP.

He said the federal government is giving low rankings to states such as
Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, which traditionally do very
well on NAEP, the ACT and SAT college entrance examinations, and other
standardized tests.

Other states whose students do not perform nearly as well on those tests
have often gotten higher marks under the federal No Child Left Behind
law, Christensen contended.

Nebraska is unique among the 50 states because it allows each of its 250
school districts to devise its own assessments of student achievement.

Christensen said the most important evaluation of students should be the
formative assessments done by classroom teachers as students are learning.

He said he has received support for that stance from other state
education officials, some of whom have told him that Nebraska is in the
place they believe their states should go.

— Harold Reutter<
Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent


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