The Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis, a consortium of 65 area public districts, has developed the following list of suggestions for improving No Child Left Behind. The 15 suggestions address issues with assessment of subgroups, students with disabilities, sanctions and timelines when schools do not meet NCLB requirements. Parents of many children in schools in the Consortium have received letters informing them that their children’s schools did not meet NCLB requirements, even though they were some of the best area schools — ones that out-tested 90% of the state .
Based on their experience with the law, superintendents from the St. Louis area developed the following suggestions:
- Use a reasonable growth or value added model. The law presently compares achievement levels of one group of students to another (i.e. 2007 achievement levels of 3rd graders are compared to 2006 achievement levels of a totally different group of 3rd graders). The achievement levels of 2007 3rd graders should be compared to their previous achievement levels as they progress through their education.
- Create a scoring system which gives schools credit for improvement. Many schools on the “Needs Improvement” list have shown tremendous growth in student achievement. Many have demonstrated much greater improvement than schools not designated as needing improvement.
- Create a scoring system which does not distort reality. A number of schools appearing on the “Needs Improvement” list will have two to three times the percentage of students scoring proficient or above than a number of schools not designated as needing improvement. This leaves the impression that very good schools are somehow lacking, while some schools with lower levels of achievement appear successful.
- Recognize that the education of some subgroups is more difficult than others, and supply adequate resources to help schools achieve success with these students. A good start would be to fully fund the federal portion of IDEA, which was promised at 40% but has never risen much above 18%.
- Remove the “fail one you fail them all” aspect of the law. This aspect creates multiple chances for school districts to fail, particularly if they are large districts with a multiple number of subgroups.
- Make the “cell size” for subgroups cumulative for school districts. Presently, if an individual school has 30 or more students in a cell for a subgroup, then the subgroup’s score counts towards the school’s score. The same cell size applies to the district. This creates a situation where all of a district’s schools may meet NCLB improvement goals, but the district itself may fail. If a district has ten schools, the cell size should be multiplied by that number at best, or at least increased significantly.
- Do not “cluster” grade levels in the scoring process unless you multiply the cell size according to the number of schools taking the test. Clustering ranges of grade level scores increases a district’s chance of failing to meet standards.
- Extend the time line for meeting NCLB goals, or do away with it altogether. When NCLB was authorized in 2002, it gave public schools until 2014 to have 100% of their children proficient in reading and math. It then left it up to local school districts to come up with plans on how to meet these goals. Interestingly, the federal government recently announced its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. It gave itself a much longer time line (43 years) to achieve a significantly less ambitious goal (80%) than it gave public schools (12 years) to achieve a much higher standard (100% proficient).
- Remove the unreasonably punitive sanctions imposed on local districts at the expense of local taxpayers (i.e. school choice within districts, school reorganization, etc.). This is a massive federal intrusion into local communities.
- Retain the focus on subgroups of children but remove the unreasonable scoring system and punitive sanctions.
- Adjust scores for states with more difficult exams. Missouri has been recognized as being in the top three states in the nation when the requirements of its exams were compared to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. This creates a situation where states with less stringent exams will place a higher percentage of students in proficient categories than might Missouri and create a false impression of the relative level of learning between students in the respective states. This has resulted in a situation where the more a state expects its children to learn, the more that state will be sanctioned when compared to those who expect less.
- Develop a system where a student’s score counts only once. At present, a student’s score can count for or against a district a number of times. For instance, a student may be Hispanic, be on free or reduced lunch, have limited English proficiency, and be on an IEP. This student’s score will count four times. Unfortunately, students who struggle the most academically and score poorly on the test generally fall into multiple categories. The present system of multiple category scoring tends to penalize schools/districts more than it rewards schools/districts. An alternative suggestion would be to allow the school district to choose the subgroups if a student falls in more than two.
- Adjust testing for the realities of children with disabilities. IDEA recognizes that some children require certain accommodations in order to enhance their education. Through formulations of IEPs, these accommodations are required to be a part of the learning and assessment process for the children. These accommodations become a part of their everyday education. However, No Child Left Behind prohibits or severely restricts the use of these same accommodations in testing that are otherwise required for the student’s education. One suggestion would be to use alternative assessment for all IEP students, or use a growth model for IEP subgroup met/not met standards.
- Use alternative assessment for LEP students. The state already tests LEP students with the MAC II in the spring. It is an appropriate test of English proficiency for LEP students. Use the results of the MAC II instead of the MAP for proficiency standards with LEP students for NCLB purposes. Additionally, give LEP students more time (2-3 years in the United States) before proficiency testing is mandated.
- Use a wider range of assessments to determine school success/failure than one test. Missouri’s “Distinction in Performance” grid is a good example and a more fair assessment of the overall success/failure of a district or building.
Cooperating School Districts website, October 22, 2008, http://www.csd.org/vnews/display.v/ART/471e12c521542