Nebraska is doing just fine without the federal government. Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen says his state could meet most requirements of No Child Left Behind. He just doesn't know what could happen if the state doesn't.
"We're going to do everything we can to integrate No Child Left Behind into our system," he says. "If there are certain things that we don't feel are appropriate for our state or good for our schools or for our kids, we don't know what we'll do. But we're very concerned that some [of the act's requirements] are not in the best interests of our state."
Christensen adds that the state legislature's education committee and the governor agree, but some other people want to see the state change to meet NCLB's requirements.
"We're not trying to have a stare-down with the federal government or draw lines in sand," he says.
One point of contention is the law's adequate yearly progress requirement. It holds standards of equity for all students. "There's nothing wrong with that," he says. "It's the methodology that sets [a school] up for failure." Under the new law, a school could be considered "failing" when only a small portion of students is not showing progress, he says. The so-called "failing schools" written about in the media are really "supposed to be 'schools in need of improvement.' "
Nebraska schools use the School-based Teacher-led Assessment and Reporting System, which include standards in reading, math, science and social studies, Christensen says. It also includes benchmark assessments in fourth, eighth and eleventh grades. www.nde.state.ne.us
Dealing with the Details: Specific Plans for NCLB
A year after No Child Left Behind became law, many educators are still calling it an unfunded federal mandate with impossible expectations. But all states have started down the road of compliance.
In January, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio had detailed school accountability plans approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Colorado's and Massachusetts' accountability plans spell out 10 principles or critical elements and activities needed to meet such criteria:
IN MASSACHUSETTS, the annual yearly progress method explains that all students and schools are expected to reach proficiency by 2013-14. To reach that, the district uses a proficiency index to measure “the extent to which students have achieved proficiency in reading and math.” Measuring “change over time” relative to accomplishing the goal to get all students proficient by 2014 will chart improvement. www.doe.mass.edu
IN COLORADO’S plan, one critical element poses a question: How are all public schools held to the same criteria when making an AYP determination? The response states that Colorado’s state assessment system does not include students until third grade. AYP will be defined for schools with K-2 students and determined by using assessments used to implement Colorado’s Basic Literacy Act. www.cde.state.co.us
Hamilton (Ohio) School District
Ohio Faces Failures
It served as the model for the No Child Left Behind bill for its testing, early childhood programs, ongoing staff development and parental involvement. Now, the Hamilton (Ohio) School District continues to make sure it complies with the law.
Out of 14 schools with a 10,000-student population, two schools were flagged as needing improvement during the past year, according to Barbara Fuerbacher, assistant superintendent of instruction. Parents of children in those schools were offered choices to transfer their children to other schools. Twenty out of 800 students in those schools transferred. "We had a lot of phone calls from parents," Fuerbacher says. "Most were to say they were happy with their child's [original] school."
The problems at the schools were in part that they were in a lower socio-economic area and many students had great needs, she says. The children who transferred are being tracked using grades, attendance and standardized testing.
The two schools flagged will seek improvements using an internal and external coach. The internal coach, or a teacher in the district, will gather data, evaluate programs, provide staff development and provide extra help for students. An external coach will review research-based programs in schools nationwide.
The district's Continuous Improvement Plans, which have been around for six years, will keep track of what works and what doesn't. For example, a fourth-grade writing action plan includes an objective to raise writing proficiency. With 49 percent of the kids reaching proficiency this year, the goal is to raise that to 55 percent in 2002-03. The plan will list steps to meet the goals, including having after-school proficiency intervention sessions for an hour a week, Fuerbacher says.