By now, everyone knows about the new education bill and its testing requirements. Or do you?
Sure, the No Child Left Behind Act has gotten a lot of press and most educators know its topline goals by heart. But the bill contains so much information that it's impossible to digest in one or two gulps. So consider this a planning guide for meeting the requirements of the new bill, including two sections that didn't get a lot of press-what changes school districts face this fall, and the report card that districts have to offer to parents and the community at large.
Besides testing and achievement standards, the legislation makes numerous changes in federal K-12 education programs. Here's a summary of key requirements and provisions about what states must do, by when, to comply with the law. (The Council of Chief State School Officers recently produced a 45-page draft paper about state responsibility under the new legislation. You can find a PDF version at www.ccsso.org/pdfs/NCLB2002.pdf.
Currently, states must administer exams in reading/language arts and mathematics at least once during these ranges: grades three to five; grades six to nine and grades 10 to 12. The new law requires states to test students in more grades, using assessments developed or chosen by each state. These test results will be used to hold educators, schools and districts accountable for student achievement. Since these testing requirements will entail additional costs, they are contingent on the federal government providing a set amount of funding each year to help states cover the costs.
The new law also requires states to raise the qualifications for new teachers and verify the qualifications of current teachers. In exchange for meeting the new demands, poorer school districts will receive additional federal funding, and all states and school districts will have greater flexibility in how they can use federal funds.
By 2005-06, states must have highly qualified teachers in all their public school classrooms where core academic subjects are taught. States must take certain steps in the interim years to meet this goal. "Highly qualified" means that a teacher must be fully certified or licensed, have a bachelor's degree, and show competence in subject knowledge and teaching skills (generally demonstrated by passing a rigorous state test). The requirements differ somewhat for new and already-hired teachers, and for elementary, middle and high school teachers. Also, by school year 2002-03, all new teachers hired whose salaries are supported by Title I program funds must be "highly qualified."
The new law also contains specific requirements about the features and uses of state tests.
The law requires every school, school district and state to disaggregate the average test results for certain groups of students, including: major racial and ethnic groups, major income groups, students with a disability, students with limited English proficiency, and migrant students.
This requirement is meant to highlight the relative achievement levels of these groups of students and to hold schools accountable for closing the achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students on one hand, and Caucasian and Asian students on the other.
Using disaggregated test information, states are required to follow a precise timeline to close achievement gaps between different racial, ethnic and income groups, and other groups noted above. Beginning after school year 2001-02, states have 12 years to move all groups of students to the benchmark set by the state for proficiency in mathematics and reading. States must set regular targets for increasing achievement during that period, using as a starting level the average achievement of the lowest performing group of students or schools in the state.
Each school must test at least 95 percent of its students, and each group of students in a school must meet or exceed the annual objectives set for them. Schools that do not reach state performance objectives will be subject to various forms of assistance, intervention and other actions, depending on how long the failure persists.
If Your Schools Fail
Charles Shields, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a contributing editor and 20-year veteran educator based in suburban Chicago.