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Inside The Law

Inside the Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Airing Out Old Concerns

Using grade level indicators, focusing on individual student achievement, and only targeting subgroups, and not whole schools, that miss targets are a few ideas experts recently proposed to change what they deem some of the great drawbacks of the No Child Left Behind act.

The Center on Education Policy is holding several forums to offer individuals and organizations a chance to reveal workable alternatives in the federal education act, even when a Senate committee recently proposed its own changes in the law.

Recently, educators and experts discussed accountability measures and debated provisions for students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

The education policy center says the law is good overall and has done a "big favor" for some students--"shining the light on serving the subgroups that have not been served well in the traditional system," says Diane Rentner, deputy director of Center on Education Policy.

Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, says people went from saying the law would be the "death knell of public education" to seeing positive changes in student achievement. It's too early to change the law now, he adds. "We need to see them implemented for some period of time to evaluate which part needs to be changed," Wiener says.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is up for reauthorization in 2007.

W.James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of America's "Failing" Schools: How Parents and Teachers Can Cope With No Child Left Behind, says the law allows states to select the wrong tests. Some use standardized national tests and add some questions that match state standards, which tend to test not how much they are taught but where they come from, such as affluent vs. low-income families, says Popham. The other test is created by an outside testing firm that tends to test too many content standards.

California-based Pacific Research Institute editorial director K. Lloyd Billingsley proposes a measurement model that calculates a rate of expected change, or REACH, using an individual student's test scores to devise an annual individual improvement target for that student.

The Northwest Evaluation Association proposes a hybrid success model that judges success of schools by the growth of each student and identifies a growth target for each student that results in reaching or surpassing proficiency.

An Act to Make No Child More Appetizing

The No Child Left Behind Improvement Act of 2004 falls short of proposing fundamental changes but does offer significant alterations.

Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, and other Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recently proposed the changes, which the

National Education Association already hail as a positive step. The act:

Retains public school choice options:

Ensures that districts consider health and safety codes for students transferring to other schools to avoid overcrowding

Provides funds for overcrowded buildings, supporting school construction and renovation.

Requires all SES providers to employ quality personnel.

Ensures highly qualified teachers and para-professionals in every classroom:

Ensures every state develop the standard criteria for ensuring that veteran teachers are qualified under High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation.

Requires fair and accurate accountability decisions:

Because the federal DOE was late in guidance and final regulations for counting children with disabilities or English Language Learners for two years, states may have mislabeled thousands of schools under NCLB's standards last year. The act requires the secretary to give schools the choice of re-calculating AYP scores from last year.

Improves the quality and scope of student testing:

It provides new funds to help states develop native language assessments for ELL and better assessments for special needs children.

More Schools Make AYP

Most states show gains in districts meeting adequate yearly progress from 2003 to 2004, but what it means is still up for debate.

"If you look at the numbers as a nation, it's not a good indication of much," says Scott Young, policy associate of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which compiles the state numbers. "If you look at a state like Delaware, for example, they dropped from 57 percent to 24 percent missing AYP. It looks good. But to accept that it's due to an increase in student performance is probably a stretch. ... We're really deluding ourselves for another year thinking this is actually working."

Young explains that in many cases where districts are making AYP it means more students are encouraged to take the yearly tests to determine AYP and/or more states are using confidence intervals, or a margin of error, so that students near the proficiency cusp are considered proficient. "More states are picking up more creative strategies out there" to meet AYP, he says.

But the federal education department stands firm. "I think that the general trend, and I haven't had a chance to closely analyze the data, but I think we're seeing improvements from last year," says Kerri Briggs, senior policy advisor in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. "I think teachers and superintendents took it seriously and adopted the goals as their own."

As for helping states better understand the law, Briggs says the education department has done much. It has a superintendent hotline for questions, as well as a teacher Web site. Officials have also conducted workshops for teachers to better understand the law. "It reflects Secretary Paige's desire to reach out to local folks," she says.

NCSL has convened a task force to examine the law and propose recommendations by December to states, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. Some recommendations may focus on changing the language of the law or making state plans more concise, Young says.

Native Mexican Takes Setback in English Test in Stride

Jose Manuel Lopez is among four students nationwide District Administration is tracking to consider if and how the No Child Left Behind act is helping some students.

When District Administration last checked on the progress of Jose Manuel Lopez, now an eighth grader at Lorenzo Dezavala Middle School in Irving, Texas, the youngster was hoping to take a state assessment test in English last spring even though he couldn't even talk to someone in English last December.

Jose worked hard, wanting to prove he could tackle the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test in English. Some in the Irving Independent School District say TAKS is not a favorite barometer because it can frustrate students and highlight what they lack linguistically, rather than what the students know.

Jose passed the math section and came close to passing the English section.

"My father told me he's proud because I have only a little time here, and he told me some people have a lot of time here and they don't say nothing" in English, the 14-year-old says in choppy English.

Jose's English as a Second Language teacher, Jessica Benschoter, confirms that his results on TAKS does not hinder his progress, but will likely enhance it.

"He knows he did well and we tell him he did well," she says. "Even getting close when you've only been trying to speak the language for six, seven months, is an amazing feat.

In evidence of Jose's positive outlook is his continuing role as an informal aid to his teacher. Jose helps tutor some sixth graders struggling in English in his class. "He has a skill to teach what he already knows and it helps him to learn more," Benschoter says.

Jose's enthusiasm is readily apparent, his teacher says. "He'll start speaking in Spanish and all of a sudden start correcting himself and speak in English instead," she says.

--Allan Richter

New Manual for Compliance

A new resource for school administrators to maneuver around the federal education act is available.

The No Child Left Behind Compliance Insider, published by Brownstone Publishers, will help K-12 superintendents, principals, and federal program administrators understand how the rules apply to them, report test results properly, and explain new options NCLB provides to parents and community members.