Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Spellings Report: Today's Big NCLB News!

There's some BIG news today about No Child Left Behind. It seems as though a number of states have been using a loophole in the law to hide some students' test scores from scrutiny. As one might guess, US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is not amused:
Laquanya Agnew and Victoria Duncan share a desk, a love of reading and a passion for learning. But because of a loophole in the No Child Left Behind Act, one second-grader's score in Tennessee counts more than the other's. That is because Laquanya is black, and Victoria is white.

An Associated Press computer analysis has found Laquanya is among nearly 2 million children whose scores aren't counted when it comes to meeting the law's requirement that schools track how students of different races perform on standardized tests.

The AP found that states are helping public schools escape potential penalties by skirting that requirement. And minorities _ who historically haven't fared as well as whites in testing _ make up the vast majority of students whose scores are excluded.

The Education Department said that while it is pleased that nearly 25 million students nationwide are now being tested regularly under the law, it is concerned that the AP found so many students aren't being counted by schools in the required racial categories.

"Is it too many? You bet," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in an interview. "Are there things we need to do to look at that, batten down the hatches, make sure those kids are part of the system? You bet."

The plight of the two second-graders shows how a loophole in the law is allowing schools to count fewer minorities in required racial categories.

There are about 220 students at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn., where President Bush marked the second anniversary of the law's enactment in 2004. Tennessee schools have federal permission to exclude students' scores in required racial categories if there are fewer than 45 students in a group.

There are more than 45 white students. Victoria counts.

There are fewer than 45 black students. Laquanya does not.

One of the consequences is that educators are creating a false picture of academic progress.

"We're forcing districts and states to play games because the system is so broken, and that's not going to help at all," said Kathy Escamilla, a University of Colorado education professor. "Those are little games to prevent showing what's going on."

Under the law signed by Bush in 2002, all public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, although only children above second grade are required to be tested.

Schools receiving federal poverty aid also must demonstrate annually that students in all racial categories are progressing or risk penalties that include extending the school year, changing curriculum or firing administrators and teachers.

The law requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math. No scores can be excluded from a school's overall measure.
There is much more to read in the whole piece. See page 1 here, page 2 here, page 3 here, and page 4 over there.

I think that as 2014 (also known as the Day Of Reckoning) approaches, there will be more revelations of other schemes and artifices that have been cooked-up in order to avoid the sanctions that NCLB imposes on those schools that have failed to meet what we believe is an unreachable goal: 100% of students reading and calculating at or above grade level.

Which leads us to another question: Did the No Child Left Behind Act set-up American public education for failure by setting an unrealistic goal?

Just some food for thought...

Update: (04/19/06) Heh. Congress is going to investigate. I hope they do better with this than they've done with illegal immigration, war profiteering, tax loopholes, bribery regulating lobbiests, or prosecuting the Iraq War.

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