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Superintendent Seeks to Revamp 'No Child' Act: Hatrick Calls Law 'Quagmire of Rules'

We don't want public education to become a 13-year course in how to take a test. I want the testing called for by No Child Left Behind to become a reflection of how a progressive curriculum is being taught.
--Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III

By Michael Alison Chandler

Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III assailed the federal government's No Child Left Behind law last week at a meeting of business leaders and state lawmakers.

The 16-year head of the 53,000-pupil school system has been a vocal opponent of federal requirements that English-language learners take the same reading tests as their native-speaking peers. His criticisms of the law were broader last week, as he told the audience that he is working with superintendents locally and nationally to overhaul the entire program, which is slated for reauthorization this fall in Congress.

The law has become "a quagmire of rules and regulations that don't make sense," he said Wednesday morning at an annual education-focused meeting of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, at the school administration building in Ashburn.

Hatrick noted that, for the first time, a Loudoun elementary school faced federal sanctions this year for failing to meet all its test-score targets two years in a row. The school system was required to permit parents to transfer their children, an option that more than 30 families took, he said.

Hatrick said it is counterintuitive and counterproductive to have students go elsewhere before intervening with support and services at a school that has fallen short of benchmarks.

"We have to change the whole notion of punishment and recognize improvement," he said.

Under No Child Left Behind, each school has to meet test-score targets for as many as 29 subgroups of students, which are based on such factors as race, ethnicity, disability and economic status.

Taking into account all the subgroups, schools and subjects areas being tested, the Loudoun school system met federal benchmarks in all but 49 of 1,914 categories. Nevertheless, 14 schools and the district as a whole were considered to have fallen short of the testing standards.

"To me, that means we should be getting more than a passing grade," Hatrick said, "not being labeled as 'not making adequate yearly progress.' "

In the spring, Hatrick and a few other Virginia superintendents met with federal lawmakers and U.S. Education Department officials, including Secretary Margaret Spellings, to urge them to allow English-language learners to take alternative tests. His efforts were unsuccessful.

Now he is advocating for much broader changes. He helped craft a proposal by the American Association of School Administrators, a professional association with 13,000 members, for a revamping of No Child Left Behind. He said in an interview last week that he plans to meet with members of Congress in the coming months to discuss the group's agenda.

He said the law should be changed so that the federal government takes a supporting role, rather than a leading one, in determining how students and teachers are assessed. He also maintained that punitive measures should be replaced by supportive ones.

In his remarks Wednesday, Hatrick said the federal government does not provide enough money to school systems to justify so many mandates. The federal share of Loudoun's operating budget of nearly $700 million is about 1.6 percent.

He also said the school system needs to stress creativity over test-taking skills if students are to succeed in the changing global and innovation-based economy.

"We don't want public education to become a 13-year course in how to take a test," he said. "I want the testing called for by No Child Left Behind to become a reflection of how a progressive curriculum is being taught."

— Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post


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