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NCLB Outrages

Forum Has Little Good To Say About 'No Child Left Behind'

The "No Child Left Behind" education law was approved with overwhelming bi-partisan support in Washington D.C. two years ago, but few of the 50 folks at a NCLB forum in Randolph Nov. 24 had much good to say about the complex law.

Billed as an information-sharing session for legislators and the community, the event featured a detailed presentation on the law by Randolph Elementary School Principal Steve Metcalf. As of this year, Metcalf is spending 40% of his time managing data and other NCLB requirements for the entire Orange Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU.)

Metcalf prefaced his data-packed talk by saying that he hoped to keep the focus on information, not opinion. He noted, however, that the national Education Week magazine recently reported that 90% of school administrators said they had either "major" or "minor" issues with the law.

Some of that negative feeling, Metcalf warned, might creep into his talk. It definitely and repeatedly did. OSSU Supt. Brent Kay, OSSU Board Chair Laura Soares, and several community members, also voiced reservations.

Their comments pointed to concerns ranging from excessive federal meddling in local education policy to frustration over myriad under-funded mandates.

They said they supported the overall goals of the law, but they sharply questioned whether its requirements and consequences would actually lead to the desired results.

"The original goals are nearly universally accepted," Metcalf said: that all students succeed, that schools be accountable, and that educators use research-based instructional techniques.

These goals, however, rest on a complex structure of rules and mandates that are affecting every level of education, from local schools to the state Department of Education.

Yearly Testing

As widely reported, NCLB requires annual testing of students, grades 3-8 and at one grade in high school. The law has a series of consequences for schools that don’t achieve "adequate yearly progress" for each of 10 different sub-groups of kids. If one sub-group does not test well one year, the school is tagged as "needing improvement."

Many educators and parents have supported this move to break down the test results—as opposed to reporting only an average score for an entire grade level. Average scores can mask poor achievement in specific groups.

However, under NCLB guidelines, "virtually every school" in the nation will be identified as inadequate within three or four years, Metcalf maintained. And the consequences for these schools, he suggested, tend to be more "punitive" than "assistive."

One of the problems with NCLB, Metcalf indicated, is that each state can set its own standards, and the rigor varies widely.

One measure that compares state-to-state performance is the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Results from three years of testing consistently place Vermont among a small group of top-performing states, Metcalf reported.

Even then, only about two in five Vermont students reached the "proficient" level, he said.

NCLB’s costs are also an issue, educators at the forum said.

Vermont, which had already established a series of tests and standards for its schools, must now retool its approach to meet federal requirements. The state’s many small schools and supervisory union structure don’t easily mesh with NCLB machinery, it was noted.

NCLB also contains "piggy-back" mandates that will further ratchet up costs, Metcalf said. The district, for example must make a plan for "security procedures at school and while students are on the way to and from school" to keep schools safe and drug-free.

Title I Funds

According to Metcalf, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige has said that NCLB gives adequate funds, in the form of Title I grants to states, to effect the changes. Metcalf’s 40% salary, it was noted, is being covered by Title I funds.

However, Supt. Brent Kay commented that some superintendents have estimated that implementing NCLB in future years, when consequences kick in, might cost 10-to-15-times the money that the state receives.

OSSU receives about $380,000 in "Title" money from the federal government, representing about 2.5% of annual school spending in the district, Metcalf said.

All this gloomy talk was a little too much for one person in the audience.

"I’m bothered by the tone of this meeting," said Jessica Vaughan of Randolph. "There’s not enough focus on how to do better—we all can do better."

Several government representatives attended the NCLB meeting. Reps. Patsy French and Steve Webster of Randolph, and "Rozo" McLaughlin of Royalton were there, as was Orange County Sen. Mark McDonald.

Gov's Representative

The OSSU board, which organized the meeting, had also invited Gov. Jim Douglas and Vermont’s congressional delegation. Douglas was represented by his press secretary Jason Gibbs and Sen. Jim Jeffords sent a representative as well.

Gibbs was pressed by someone in the audience to present Douglas’s view on NCLB.

"The governor recognizes that this is a complicated, onerous" bill, one not designed for Vermont, "with it’s deep libertarian streak," said Gibbs,

However, Gibbs challenged a suggestion made earlier in the meeting that NCLB was "an elaborate conspiracy to privatize schools."

Douglas, he said, supports the bill’s "general philosophy as a goal we owe our children."

Given that the bill was passed with "overwhelming" support by Congress, Gibbs continued, it is important to "do our best to implement it, within the context of the state’s educational priorities."

As for the costs of NCLB, "Vermont has the resources today to do what the law requires today," Gibbs said. "I don’t know about two to three years from now."

By Sandy Cooch

Test Results in White R. Valley

A few weeks ago, Vermont released its first-year accountability report under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). One list showed that 39 schools (13% of the state’s public schools) failed to make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP). The second showed that 41 districts and supervisory unions (66% of the total) similarly failed the "AYP" goal.

Schools and districts are put on the list if even one (or more) sub-group of students doesn’t test well enough to meet that year’s benchmark. Sub-groups comprise six different ethnic groups, students with disabilities, and other divisions.

The reason there are more Vermont school districts on the list than individual schools is that there must be at least about 40 kids in a sub-group for the tests scores to count. Most schools in Vermont don’t have, for example, 40 disabled students in the fourth grade—but their district might.

In just that way, none of the individual schools in the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union was on the "needs improvement" list, but the OSSU itself was. In OSSU, two sub-groups (students with disabilities and those receiving free/reduced lunch) did not make AYP on the "English/Language Arts" tests.

None of the public schools in the 16 towns covered by The Herald were on the "needs improvement" lists. However, the Orange Windsor Supervisory Union, like OSSU, was on the district list, also because of sub-group performance on language tests.

At the Nov. 24 forum on the No Child Left Behind law, Randolph Principal Steve Metcalf noted that all Chittenden County schools failed to make AYP. The chief reason, he said, is that the Burlington area has a high immigrant/refugee population, and schools have relatively large numbers of "English learners"—one of the 10 sub-groups—who do not, overall, do well on the tests.

— Sandy Cooch
Forum Has Little Good To Say About 'No Child Left Behind'
Randolph Herald


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