The Washington Post reports on proposed revisions to No Child Left Behind, the sweeping education reform initiative that was the hallmark of GW Bush’s first term.
NCLB brought to the forefront some of the closet issues in education, but as with many federal reforms of largely local initiatives, there are some problems. Among those "closet issues" was the ability to mask the underperformance of certain demographic groups behind the overall test scores of the student body as a whole; however, the weakness in the legislation as originally passed is that states were allowed to define the size of sub-groups.
In addition, Miller proposed strengthening a rule that requires test scores to be reported separately for groups of students identified by ethnicity, race, family income and other factors. Currently, Maryland reports separate scores for groups in a given school if there are at least five students in the demographic category. D.C. schools report scores from all groups with at least 40 students in a given school, and Virginia sets the threshold at 50 students.
The proposal would require scores to be reported — and achievement raised — for all demographic groups with at least 30 students in a school. That could make it harder for Virginia and D.C. schools to reach academic targets.
Having a consistent subgroup size will at least ensure some equity in comparing one state’s progress to that of another. That said, it’s inevitable that all states will eventually be doomed to failure under the current testing method, as human beings just aren’t 100% alike in our capacity to learn. In particular, students who don’t speak English — the language of instruction and testing — and students with learning disabilities, may never meet the proficiency goals.
Another area that needs some work is the graduation rate standard:
Miller’s draft also puts new emphasis on high school dropouts, proposing resources to help schools with the lowest graduation rates have "data-driven decision making, improved curriculum and instruction, personalization of the school environment, staff collaboration and professional development and individualized student supports," according to a summary of the plan.
The graduation rate is defined as the percentage of students who graduate in four years. Unfortunately, that has created an adverse side effect that is contrary to the best interest of some students. Take, for example, a high school freshman who blows 9th grade in a big way. Not failing, mind you, but not learning much, putting forth only the effort required to scrape by. At the end of the year, the parents and student have a serious heart-to-heart, and both agree that repeating 9th grade would be in the student’s best interest.
So, they approach the school, which denies the request out of hand. Why? Because if they allowed it, then the student would take five years to graduate (even though it would be an extra year well spent), and the school would take a hit on their graduation rate.
One student can cause a school to miss the mark; it happened right here in Oak Ridge. Not because of the aforementioned scenario, but due to a student who enrolled as a transfer but never actually attended a single class.
NCLB is a noble goal, but remains unworkable as written. I hope that the tweaks are effective.