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NCLB Outrages

Academic standards bill vetoed

Governor refuses to lower criteria for complying with No Child Left Behind law. The California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association supported AB 2975, but the bill was opposed by Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction.

By Jim Sanders

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation Wednesday that proposed an instant fix for students failing to meet California's standard for proficiency: redefine proficiency.

Schwarzenegger concluded that changing a few words won't solve academic woes.

"Redefining the level of academic achievement necessary to designate students as 'proficient' does not make the students proficient," his veto message said.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, called the governor's veto of her Assembly Bill 2975 a "missed opportunity" that ultimately will hurt students.

"Schools will be labeled as failing schools even if they are making progress and improving their test scores," she said.

AB 2975 argued that California's definition of proficiency was unrealistically high.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires every student to be proficient in English and mathematics by 2014, but every state can define proficiency.

Thus the rub: States that set the bar low academically have a distinct advantage.

In recent years, fewer than 50 percent of students have met California's standard for proficiency, which basically requires standardized test scores that show grade-level competence and, thus, skills necessary to attend college.

"While that's a good goal, it's an unrealistic requirement for all students," Hancock said.

Under NCLB, sanctions are imposed on schools that receive federal funds for disadvantaged children and fail two consecutive years in meeting annual targets for the number of proficient children overall and in ethnic or other subgroups, such as English learners.

Penalties increase in severity over a five-year period, from allowing students to transfer at district expense to restructuring the faculty or administration of a targeted school.

AB 2975 proposed a lower standard for proficiency. Students would have met it by acquiring adequate skills, year by year, to pass the California High School Exit Exam.

The exit exam measures English-language arts at about the ninth- and 10th-grade levels, and mathematics at about the seventh- and eighth-grade levels, officials said.

The California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association supported AB 2975, but the bill was opposed by Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction.

"Young people need higher-level skills than ever before to succeed in the competitive global economy," O'Connell said in a prepared statement.

The Republican governor vetoed two other bills Wednesday relating to academic standards:

Senate Bill 1546 would have allowed community college districts to concurrently award an associate degree and a high school diploma, without passage of the High School Exit Exam.

Assembly Bill 2937 would have required the state Department of Education to determine what performance levels on a California Standards Test would equate to passage of the exit exam.

"California has made tremendous strides toward achieving world-class academic standards and testing for our students," Schwarzenegger said.

"I will continue my vigilance in protecting these high standards."

— Jim Sanders
Sacramento Bee


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