Between the Lines: Feeling left behind by NCLB

Rep. Kristi Noem was in Vermillion Friday to meet with specialists when it comes to No Child Left Behind � Vermillion educators.

They have been in the trenches for the last decade, wrestling with the complex requirements imposed by this legislation introduced by President George W. Bush.

Noem is a member of the National Resources Committee and the Education and Workforce Committee, and traveled to multiple schools in the state last week to hear educators� concerns.

The implications of NCLB came up often, and Noem said changes need to be made.

�We can recognize there were some good intentions there, but it doesn�t work as far as adding the flexibility that we need to really address some of the issues that our kids have at each school district level,� she said.

Noem supports changing the law so that a �growth model� is used that focuses on students and their individual performance comparing students from schools in one state to those in other states. She believes everyone would benefit if children are assessed during the school year to determine the individual progress they made in the classroom.

�I think that is a good idea, because we all recognize as educators that we have children that don�t begin to read all at the same time, they don�t graduate all at the same time � they may have a disability, and No Child Left Behind doesn�t necessarily take into account those individual differences,� Vermillion Middle School Principal Pat Anderson told Noem. �We try to as educators, but sometimes we�re handcuffed by the accountability aspect. You just have to look at every child. Every child has a strength, and areas they need to improve upon, and if we can get that flexibility, that�s something that would be a better measure of how each child is progressing through their 12 years of education.�

Just last week, the Associated Press reported that Republicans and Democrats agree the NCLB law is broken. The Bush-era legislation has accountability provisions in which even schools that are making improvements can be labeled as failures and has had a discouraging effect on the adoption of higher standards.

The law sets a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states set what is considered proficient and how much schools must improve each year. Many left the biggest leaps for the final years, anticipating the law would be changed.

Since it has not, the number of schools not meeting annual growth benchmarks is likely to increase. Failing to meet the targets for several consecutive years leads to federal interventions that can result in staff replacement and school restructuring.

It�s a scenario that could happen in South Dakota soon.

When No Child Left Behind was inacted in 2002, the goal was to increase accountability in schools and raise achievement to where every student would be "advanced" or "proficient" by 2014, according to certain standards. In a May 23 report broadcast by KELO-TV, South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said because achievement is based on one yearly test, the goals are unrealistic.

"It's not a measure of where our students are, even if we should… you max out,� Schopp said. �It's not even logical to believe 100 percent of students will be proficient or advanced by 2014."

Right now, 94 South Dakota schools in six districts are on "school improvement,� meaning they're not hitting achievement goals set by the state. Schopp admits education officials "backloaded" those goals so districts didn't have to make such big gains from the start.

Noem voiced optimism that she and her fellow Education and Workforce Committee members, using a piecemeal approach, can eventually come up with some meaningful changes to NCLB.

It�s likely going to be a long, drawn-out process. President Barack Obama hopes the reforms could be accomplished by August, but it looks like that�s not going to happen.

Two approaches have emerged to restructuring the law, reports the Associated Press.  The House plans to introduce several targeted fixes through multiple bills, as Noem noted, starting with a proposal to eliminate 43 federal K-12 education programs. The Senate still aims for a more comprehensive legislation.

Anyone who listened to Noem and local educators talk about the reforms needed to NCLB could quickly come to the conclusion that it is a discussion difficult for a layman to, frankly, understand. It�s a complex law, with a myriad of requirements.

We note that we possess a glaring lack of expertise when it comes to trying to unravel this law�s intricacies. A solution, however, may be found not too far from here.

Montana Superintendent of Instruction Denise Juneau is proposing her state adopt "common core" standards that 43 states have already adopted. She says the common core standards are much clearer than NCLB's and measure students' progress at every grade level, rather than just the three grade levels measured under NCLB.

Supporters of the new system say the common core replaces highly variable standards adopted by individual states as they tried to conform with NCLB. They contend the new system will make it easier to measure progress and compare progress between states.

In late 2010, the South Dakota Board of Education moved to adopt the common core standards. There wasn�t any discussion of common core at Friday�s meeting. We hope this may be an alternative worth further attention of Noem and South Dakota�s educators.

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