"It just doesn't add up"
Educators decry how U.S. defines success
BY TRISHA L. HOWARD
Of the Post-Dispatch
Meramec Valley School District's assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and professional development made the rounds to three elementary schools last week to deliver the good news: All three schools had helped more of their students score proficient or advanced on state reading and math tests.
So the same assistant superintendent, Janet Hubbard, cringed when she saw the newspaper report last week about her district falling short of Missouri's target for yearly progress. The Franklin County district's five elementary schools met the goals. The middle and high schools did not.
"It's heart-wrenching that out of all of these incredible achievements, people are going to remember reading in the paper that Meramec Valley didn't meet the state standards," Hubbard said. "But I'm in the schools celebrating."
Welcome to the world created by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
...For example, the Troy, Mo., School District failed to make adequate yearly progress this year because a single group of children - those in special education at Troy Middle School - fell short of the target for communication arts, according to testing data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
That vexes Harvey Hegger, a retired engineer whose three grandchildren attend Troy schools.
Hegger looked at the test scores and saw that his school posted higher percentages of students in the top two scoring levels than some other districts in the area. But some of those other districts met the state goals - and Troy didn't.
"I'm sure anybody who understands math and numbers would look at that and say, 'That doesn't make sense,'" said Hegger, a retired engineer. "It just doesn't add up."
Exactly. They do highlight the talk from the Ed. Dept. that progress might be considered as an indicator of "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) rather than benchmarks. That would of course make AYP reflective of its name-- that is, it would actually be a measure of progress.
Ferguson-Florissant Superintendent Jeff Spiegel said he favors a proposal suggested recently by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, in which the country would move from requiring every student to be proficient to a system that measures each student's performance year to year.
"It makes sense to a lot of educators to do that instead of comparing the performance of different students," Spiegel said.
Marshall Cohen, director of the Lift for Life Academy, said his charter middle school does just that, by testing each student at the beginning and end of the school year to see whether the child has made progress under No Child Left Behind, which applies to charter schools but not to private schools.
Testing students as a group doesn't tell educators whether they helped a student who started several grade levels behind catch up to the rest of the class, Cohen said.
"That's what we like to see, and we've been showing progress in those areas," Cohen said.
So will the feds loosen up and make AYP more reflective of its name? That depends on the state of the rebellion against NCLB:
Educators and parents say they understand the push for accountability. But they don't understand how schools and districts that stack up as excellent by other measures can fail to reach the state targets for yearly progress.
Missouri residents are not alone in their concern. At least 15 states have considered legislation to opt out of the federal law, and 21 states have debated measures criticizing it, according to a study released last week by the Civil Society Institute, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Massachusetts.
If the resistance to NCLB fades, so will the much needed reforms. But if the heat stays on the feds to make the changes -- that is, if it looks like states really would start opting out -- then we'll see big changes, fast.