Inside The Law
Update on No Child After Two Years
More students are using tutoring while not choosing another school to get a quality education. States and districts are dragging their feet when it comes to updating teacher qualifications. And funding is still a big issue.
These are among the findings in the most comprehensive national examination of all aspects of No Child Left Behind implementation.
The report from the Center on Education Policy includes information based on a survey of 47 states and the District of Columbia, 274 school districts, and in-depth case studies of 33 urban, suburban and rural districts.
Among the major findings are:
States and districts are trying hard to meet the requirements of the act and agree with the goals
Broader and deeper effects of the law were felt by school districts last year, which means additional help for schools identified as "needing improvement"
Choosing another public school is rarely used by parents of children in identified schools, but receiving tutoring services is used more often
Some requirements of the act are unworkable
States and districts are slow to update teacher and paraprofessional qualifications
States and districts are struggling financially and lack the resources to carry out the law.
Signs of Improvement With SES
Two years after a federal law mandated adequate yearly progress, a few urban school districts are seeing results with tutoring programs.
Philadelphia School District is offering more than 650 children in grades 3-9 extra help and tutoring in math and literacy skills.
Under No Child Left Behind, those schools identified as "in need of improvement" are to receive Supplemental Education Services paid for via Title I funds.
Every state has to approve the providers of SES for that state. Once approved, providers, which have contracts with school districts, create their own curriculum for children below grade level.
But Philadelphia also offers an extended-day program, paid with budget dollars, that is offered to children in need but not economically eligible for SES. It also provides programs for enrichment in the arts.
Under Pennsylvania's interpretation of NCLB, 30 hours of tutoring should be supplied to children with the greatest academic needs. However, Philadelphia is offering 160 hours of tutoring. "We're doing this beyond the letter of the law," says Joseph Jacovino, who heads the accountability office in the Philadelphia schools.
Last year, students who participated in SES had a six-month gain in reading from fall to late spring versus students who didn't participate in the program. And in math, students leaped two years and one month ahead.
Jacovino says while the results are more than promising, he wants to see "sustainable growth over time." "One year is not necessarily the answer."
The program is part of various reforms underway in the district, including extending instructional blocks of time for literacy and math and a uniform core curriculum so students who move from school to school within the district can pick up where they left off.
Stellar Schools? Not So Fast
From Florida to California, schools have been given state awards for excellence and even praised by President Bush over the past few years.
But many administrators are still frustrated. Ironically, many of those otherwise stellar schools do not meet federal guidelines for showing adequate yearly progress in state accountability tests according to No Child Left Behind. And some are even getting "F" grades on their school report cards.
The U.S. Department of Education claims this discrepancy is due to the fact that many schools base their scores on averages, instead of disaggregating data. "On average, the school is doing well but not all kids are learning what they should be learning," says Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman for the education department.
And while these schools are doing a good job in educating most students, they still have weak spots that need to be corrected, she adds. "I don't think a school that ... did not make AYP should beat itself up. It simply means there are areas for improvement and growth."
What a Difference Four Months Makes
In four months, a Mexican native learning how to speak and read English in a Texas school was able to answer questions in English over the phone.
Jose Manuel Lopez, an eighth grader at Lorenzo Dezavala Middle School in Irving (Texas) Independent School District, couldn't even talk to someone speaking in fluent English in late December.
He still struggles with the language, but he wants to take a state assessment test in English, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, to prove he can do it. "I want to take the test because I know more English," he said in a recent phone interview.
Jose already took the state's Reading Proficiency Test in English this March.
Under No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education recently relaxed testing requirements for students with limited English skills. The changes allow students, like Jose, who have been enrolled in a U.S. school for less than a year to bypass the state's regular reading test. First-year ELL students must take the state's math test, but schools don't have to report the scores.
Tonie Garza, Irving district director of the ESL/bilingual/migrant programs, says she doesn't like the idea of ELL students taking TAKS. "It's frustrating for them; it makes them feel inferior," Garza says. It doesn't measure what they know, but what they are lacking linguistically in English.
His English as a Second Language teacher, Jessica Benschoter, says Jose has grown leaps and bounds over four months. He's at the top of his social studies class among non-English speaking kids. And Jose tends to go beyond the assignments Benschoter gives, handing her an essay with five paragraphs, as opposed to the three required. "It was wonderfully written with an introduction and conclusion," she says, important concepts she taught her students during the school year.
And even as Benschoter reviews the essay with Jose to correct his tenses from present to past tense he starts to catch on and correct his own tenses without her help. "He is already taking initiative," Benschoter says. "You need to tell him something only once."
He is also a cheerleader for some students who don't listen as well, instructing them, "Pay attention" in class, she says. "It's his intrinsic motivation," she says. "Generally it's the idea of 'I'm here for a better life and this is the way it's going to be for me.' "
How Effective is AYP?
When it comes to labels and low performing or high performing schools, judging the education a child receives is not so easy, according to recent research.
The Northwest Evaluation Association released new research showing that adequate yearly progress measures under No Child Left Behind are not a complete picture for judging school effectiveness. The U.S. Department of Education uses state test scores at one point in time as a main measure to determine AYP. But the study shows that AYP measures would benefit from including academic growth over time.
And some high performing schools are "resting on their laurels" and not pushing students as hard as they could or should, according to G. Gage Kingsbury, NWEA's research director.
"One thing that is missing in the initial identification of schools at risk is that they are not using all the information about those schools," Kingsbury says. "A school that is high performing is [deemed to be] a good school. But the research shows that some schools are not good. ... At the same time, low performing schools can be considered bad schools. But it's pretty clear from the research that some low performing schools are wonderful learning environments."
Kingsbury says the results are not that surprising given years of knowing that a student's success in school is affected by various factors, including home life and neighborhood conditions.
And William Sanders, manager of value-added assessments and research for SAS Institute, a provider of business analytics software, agrees. He says measuring the effectiveness of a school by looking at raw achievement levels of students is not giving the whole picture. "It's very possible that you can have a school that has failed AYP by the federal definition but that school can be very effective in ratcheting up achievement for kids at the very bottom."
"I think No Child Left Behind has a lot of positive things," says Sanders, also senior research fellow with the University of North Carolina. "But I believe Congress needs to seriously consider changing the way AYP is measured."