No Amendment Left Behind

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Congress is scheduled to revisit the No Child Left Behind Act by October 1. And while many observers don’t expect Congress to reauthorize the law until after the 2008 election, national education organizations and other groups have already suggested ways to change it.

In addition to the question of funding, the debate will likely touch on at least a half-dozen big ideas for reforming the law. Here’s an overview:

National Standards

See Also
See a related story, “What NCLB Means”

Because NCLB lets each state use its own tests and standards, analysts say, the definition of student “proficiency” varies widely across the country. Some policy and advocacy groups believe voluntary national education standards are the solution.

Measuring Growth

Current accountability measures focus on whether schools get minimum percentages of their students over the proficiency bar. That may create incentives to ignore students achieving far above or below the target, and it doesn’t reflect the fact that how children perform in any year is the product of all their previous experiences.

Most education groups want the law to incorporate “growth models” that would hold schools accountable for how much students learn during a school year. The U.S. Department of Education has already permitted a handful of states to pilot the use of growth models.

Special Populations

Under NCLB, schools and districts must meet achievement targets for specific subgroups, including students with disabilities and those learning English.

Some organizations want to increase the number of special education students who can take alternate or modified assessments. Others, including the National Down Syndrome Society, want to lower the percentages, based on concerns that such a move would diminish accountability.

A number of groups have proposed exempting English-language learners’ scores for their first three years in U.S. schools, or until they pass an English proficiency test. Others want to expand the use of alternate assessments.

Sanctions for Schools

Any student in a school identified as “in need of improvement” can immediately transfer to another public school, and low-income students can opt for free tutoring the next year. Few students have used either option, however.

The Education Department is piloting a program to offer tutoring in the first year, but a number of national groups hope to limit both options to students in the subgroupsthat miss achievement targets. Meanwhile, President Bush and others want to use government funds to allow students to transfer to private schools.

High Schools

The Bush administration would like to strengthen NCLB’s role in high schools. That might mean beefing up the provisions that hold high schools accountable for their graduation rates and adding new measures of student performance beyond testing in reading and math.

It also could mean devoting more federal aid to professional development initiatives aimed at adolescent literacy, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate programs, and the preparation of middle school students for high school work.

Teacher Quality

Policy experts say teachers should expect to see more incentives that encourage states to institute pay-for-performance programs. More proposals to recruit high-quality people into teaching—and keep them there—may also emerge, particularly those aimed at undergraduate math and science majors.

Vol. 18, Issue 05, Page 11

Published in Print: March 1, 2007, as No Amendment Left Behind
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