Parents, Schools Struggle With NCLB
Ohanian Comment: Educators need to stop saying that NLCB is a good bill escept for . . . . It is rotten.
Nearly every parent, teacher and school administrator knows of the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, which was signed into law January 2002 by President Bush.
But few people seem to understand how NCLB will affect their children's education and the school systems through which they receive that education.
"I know a lot of parents don't understand NCLB, and I'm not sure if the teachers and school staff really understand it either," said Tony Simons, principal of Crofton Elementary School in Crofton, Neb.
This was certainly true for Shelly Tarin, the president of Yankton's Webster Elementary School PTA, whose 9-year-old son is in third grade -- the level at which students enter the realm of NCLB testing, and the law begins influencing the school's future.
"I'm just learning about (NCLB)," she said, representative of many area parents. "I had heard about it, but I didn't know anything about it. Now, the more I read about NCLB, the more upset I get."
However, many school administrators and teachers want to pass along to parents that NCLB is doing some good in the public school system.
"There's a lot more positive about NCLB than not," said Kevin Dick, principal at Webster Elementary School, who spoke on behalf of the entire Yankton School District. "NCLB is forcing us to really look into our methods of teaching and what we teach. We're adding programs, and increasing and improving teacher training. In the long run, I think NCLB will do what's it's supposed to do -- although there are some parts that need improvement."
NCLB was created as a complete overhaul of the nation's elementary and secondary education system. It was meant to provide an uniform educational standard for all public schools, so that no child would be left behind -- no matter their socio-economic status, English-speaking ability or disability. In a statement made by Bush at the signing of the bill, the goal of NCLB is to "improve our public schools by creating an environment where every child can learn."
The defining portion of NCLB is that by 2014, 100 percent of the nation's K-8 students are required to be proficient or advanced in reading and math.
To reach this expectation, each state has selected its path toward 100-percent proficiency in the allotted time frame. In these plans, each state's students are required to reach an annual proficiency objective, or "adequate yearly progress."
In South Dakota, at least 50 percent of students in grades 9-12 were required to be proficient this year in reading, and 65 percent in grades K-8. In math, the requirement was 60 percent in grades 9-12 and 45 percent in grades K-8.
These annual objectives are measured with a state assessment test, the Dakota STEP, which is given to all students in grades 3-8 and 11. If a school's students are unable to make the "adequate yearly progress" objective, the school is placed "on alert." If the school is unable to make the next year's objective, the school is placed on "the list" for schools in need of improvement. With this listing comes a series of sanctions that tighten with successive years of not making the annual objective. Sanctions range from requiring the school to submit an improvement plan to the state education department, to giving parents the alternative of sending children to a different school in the district, to forcing the district to relinquish control of the school to the state.
In 2003, nearly a third of South Dakota schools did not make their "annual yearly progress" objectives, and 4 percent were placed on "the list."
Currently, Yankton Middle School and Stewart Elementary are the only schools in the Yankton district not "on alert" or on "the list." Yankton High School is the only school on "the list" in level 1 school improvement, which means the district had to submit a two-year improvement plan to the state.
In essence, NCLB is supposed to make the most sweeping changes to public education since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted in 1965. NCLB emphasizes accountability for results, teaching according to scientific research, expanded parental options, and expanded local control and flexibility -- according to the U.S. Department of Education.
"In theory, it's a good idea," Tarin said. "But in reality, that one small group can put an entire school Ćon alert' is absolutely ridiculous."
As part of NCLB, groups of students were identified as having a high risk of being "left behind." These include: students with disabilities; economically disadvantaged students; limited English-proficient students; and those from major racial/ethnic groups.
Each state was required to select the number of students in these subgroups at which their Dakota STEP test scores would be counted toward the school's "annual yearly progress." South Dakota chose 10. Therefore, if a school had only nine disabled students, their scores wouldn't be counted for NCLB purposes. But, once the number of disabled students topped 10, their test scores would be included.
The problem arises when schools consider that students in some of these subgroups, such as disabled children, may be unable to test as well as other students. In fact, Dick said, unless the students are severely disabled, teachers in Yankton's school district cannot make accommodations for subgroup students.
"I have a nephew with a disability," Tarin said. "Because of this, he doesn't do well on multiple-choice tests. The test they give him for No Child Left Behind has multiple-choice questions on it, and he's not allowed an accommodation. So, naturally, he doesn't do as well as he could if he had a different kind of test question."
She agreed with Dick that it's frustrating to have one law mandating that schools accommodate disabled students while teaching but then not allow those accommodations for NCLB testing.
"I find it very irresponsible on behalf of the government," Tarin said. "I think Yankton has wonderful public schools, and think it's a shame that this bureaucracy can put a school in sanctions, all because one small group of students wasn't tested fairly."
She also has concerns with the state's subgroup size.
"It's 10 here and 200 in Texas. You can't convince me that there's not schools in Texas that have less than 200 kids in their whole schools, let alone a subgroup," Tarin said. "Ten is too small for South Dakota. This needs to be changed."
Another subgroup worry among parents and faculty of the Yankton school district concerns those students who are economically disadvantaged. Dick said research suggests a strong correlation between socio-economic status and school achievement, and that students in this subgroup often have other issues besides low academic achievement.
"I'm not saying it's not good to address these issues, but schools can't be expected to affect socio-economic change," he said.
Other concerns are the amount of emphasis placed on the single test in South Dakota, as well as that schools are responsible for funding NCLB mandates, Dick said.
Despite all the misgivings, NCLB is doing as it is intended to do, Dick said.
He said NCLB has forced administrators and teachers to look more closely at the state's standards and align curriculum with "what the state wants us to teach."
He noted, "There are good things that have come of this."
Press & Dakotan
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES