Noem receives NCLB input from Vermillion educators

Rep. Kristi Noem listens to Superintendent Mark Froke as he explains the challenges the Vermillion School District has in meeting the cumbersome goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. (Photo by David Lias)

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) needs to undergo some revisions to keep schools from being cited for failing to meet its unrealistic expectations.

That was one of the opinions voiced in an informal listening session teachers and administrators of the Vermillion School District had with Rep. Kristi Noem Friday afternoon.

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

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 doesnt 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.

Under NCLB, each student must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in reading and math test scores, which school officials said just isnt possible.

Clearly, the law is broken, said Dr. Mark Froke, Vermillion superintendent. Next year its estimated that three-fourths of the schools in the nation will be labeled as failing because the bar has been raised too high. Its just not realistic that schools can reach that level, particularly in 2013-14.

Were supposed to have everyone at a proficient level in reading and math. Its a wonderful goal, but simply not realistic, he said. This is what were struggling with here in our school to try to reach that bar. But its just set too high.

Kim Johnson, principal of Austin Elementary, said that some aspects of NCLB are positive, such as the increased accountability that comes with yearly proficiency testing.

Since this started, we have looked at student performance in a whole new way. Weve looked at what really matters, and what instruction is truly most effective, she said.

However, Johnson said the goal becomes harder to reach as the bar is raised toward 100 percent proficiency.

Well have to increase our proficient and advanced students by 8-9 percent at an elementary or high school level, and then the next year another 8-10 percent depending on the grade level. Thats 15-20 percent over the next two years. Thats just an unrealistic jump, she said.

Noem agreed, and said that other officials do, too.

The South Dakota secretary of education was at our meeting yesterday. She was saying by next year 85 percent of schools in South Dakota will be in failing (to meet the standards) based on how quickly the next level keeps ratcheting up, she said.

What needs to happen is a reorientation of focus, she said.

We need to go back in and truly find the schools that are failing and focus on them rather than addressing all of our schools and calling them failing because of how were choosing to look through the lens, Noem said.

NCLB was signed into law in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush.

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama announced NCLB will be replaced.

One upcoming change in education policy will be the fact that the plan thats eventually hammered out will be presented in multiple bills, rather than one large act, Noem said.

There will be certain components in each bill that we have a chance of some of the reforms, she said. If theres one thing we cant agree on, then the whole bill doesnt get shot down, and all the reforms dont get shot down based on the one thing that may be controversial. So at the end of the day we can have something that can be improved upon.

Noem said one of the goals of the Education and Workforce Committee is to find a way to better assess schools and students.

Im a big proponent of a growth model and not comparing kids to other kids in other classes from other years, but assessing that child from when they started the year to when they ended the year, and what progress did that child make, she said.

Consolidation of programs to increase efficiency and savings also is underway.

The secretary of education was in front of our committee not too long ago, and he was talking about the fact that he had taken 39 programs, and consolidated them down into 11 programs, and that that was a really good streamline, Noem said. They were just programs that, as they were developed and put out there, they were much like the one that was there before.

According to Noem, there currently are 80 different programs in the Department of Education that deal with teacher quality alone.

Its pretty hard to make the argument that (the system) cant get more efficient, she said.

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