FW: [ca-resisters] NCLB's unintended oucome
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: FW: [ca-resisters] NCLB's unintended oucome
- From: George Sheridan <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2003 17:22:26 -0800
As this article points out, about half the schools don't make AYP because
fewer than 95% were tested. Hooray!!
Posted on Sun, Nov. 09, 2003
Education overhaul's unintended outcome
By Suzanne Pardington
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
By almost any academic measure, Valley View Elementary is among the top
schools in California. But in the federal government's eyes, it is a failure
-- only because a few students did not take standardized tests in the
If only three more English learners and two more Latino students had taken
the tests, the Pleasanton school would have passed the new federal school
performance requirements with a perfect record.
Valley View starkly illustrates the unexpected and major hurdles to school
success created by the landmark federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Under the bipartisan overhaul of federal education policy signed by
President Bush last year, schools now must meet strict performance
requirements in math and English. In addition, at least 95 percent of
students at each school and 95 percent of children who fall into each
ethnic, economic and educational category at the school must participate in
Falling short by any one of 44 measures brings the school a failing grade as
A Times computer analysis of state education data found that more schools
and districts in Contra Costa, Alameda and Solano counties failed to make
"adequate yearly progress" because too few students took the test than for
any other academic reason. One-third of failing schools and districts in the
region fell short because of low participation rates.
The law is designed to do just what its name suggests -- ensure that every
child in the country is proficient in English and math by 2014 -- by
imposing mandatory standardized testing. Supporters of the law say it is as
important a step toward providing equal academic opportunities to all
children as the Civil Rights Act of 1964's ban against discrimination in
After two years of falling short, schools face increasingly severe
consequences. First, they must allow students to transfer to a different
school and pay the transportation costs, then they face intermediate
sanctions. Finally, the school must be restructured using outside tutoring,
experts and alternative plans for school governance that could eventually
lead to state takeover.
"We knew that these standards were going to be very rigorous, but understand
we are dealing with the poorest children and the poorest performing
schools," said U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, one of four
congressional leaders who worked with President Bush to write the law.
Congress set the minimum participation rate at 95 percent to ensure that
schools test as many students as possible, Miller said.
"The law says we want schools to take responsibility for each and every
kid," he said. "In the past, schools would boost their average scores by
selectively holding kids out that they thought wouldn't perform well."
But some educators say that 95 percent is unreasonably high, especially at
schools where 90 percent daily attendance is rare, and does not allow
exceptions for students or schools in unusual circumstances.
Take Valley View, where a thriving dual-immersion Spanish program attracts
students from all over the Pleasanton school district. The program is
designed to help both native English and Spanish speakers become fluent in
both languages by fifth grade.
Because of Valley View's program, it has a higher number of Latino students
than any other elementary school in the district, which in turn triggers the
requirement that test results for Latinos and English learners be considered
In addition, parents there are savvy and take advantage of a state law
allowing them to excuse their children from the test, teachers of the
dual-immersion classes said. Teachers support that decision, especially in
the case of a newly arrived student who speaks very little English.
Indeed, they wish they could encourage more parents to opt their children
out of testing. Making children take a test in a language they do not
understand is cruel, said teacher Betsy Saldinger, who teaches a split
third- and fourth-grade dual immersion class.
"They know they can't read a single word on there," she said. "You see their
little hand shaking. Little kids just sit there and burst into tears."
But with such small groups -- 72 students are classified as English learners
and 78 as Latino at Valley View -- the absence of four students can cause
the school to fall short of the 95 percent requirement for those groups.
That is exactly what happened.
Principal Pam Lear said there should be guidelines for participation on
tests, but exceptions should be made for students who don't speak English.
"As a state we need to look at the moral factor -- how the child feels
coming into a school in a total different country in a different environment
with a different language -- and have sensitivity to that child," she said.
The participation rates caught a lot of states and districts by surprise,
said Diane Rentner, deputy director of the Center on Education Policy, a
Washington, D.C.-based public school advocacy group that is studying the
effects of No Child Left Behind.
The federal measure is a blunt instrument, she said, and educators
nationwide have raised concerns about many details of the law, such as the
requirement to test students who don't speak fluent English. Even the math
test requires students to read English well.
But lawmakers have said they are committed to leaving the law intact, she
said. No refinements are expected until at least after next year's
A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Education said the 95 percent
participation rate does leave room for students who are absent or whose
parents don't want them to take the test.
Schools with low attendance rates "need to reach out to those children and
those parents to make sure they know the value of being at school so they
can be accounted for," Jo Ann Webb said.
That is just what Mt. Diablo High in Concord is trying to do. But 95 percent
attendance seems unattainable.
On an average day, a little less than 90 percent of students come to school.
On test day, attendance is even lower: 77 percent of students showed up to
take the English test and less than 79 percent took math.
It is not the only high school battling low attendance rates. Of the 15
traditional and alternative high schools in the Mt. Diablo school district,
only Northgate and College Park passed the adequate yearly progress
measures. All 15 schools met the new federal academic targets, but only
Northgate and College Park met the 95 percent participation requirement.
Jonathan Mendoza, a 17-year-old senior at Mt. Diablo High, said he slept in
instead of taking the tests his sophomore year, when he attended Clayton
He said it was a simple choice not to arrive at 8 a.m. daily for a week to
take three hours of tests that seemed to have little bearing on his future.
He took the tests his junior year because he was more focused on going to
college and wanted the scholarship money students could win with high
But other students think the tests do not matter. It does not count in their
grades and there are no consequences if they don't show up, Mendoza and
several other students said.
"They don't see the bigger picture as to why to take it," Mendoza said.
"They don't see the benefit to them. They just think they are being lab
The reasons may be more complicated for students who come from troubled
families, said Sue Pardini, a child welfare and attendance community liaison
at the school. Pardini tracks down truants and tries to help them overcome
obstacles to coming to school. She has 300 students in her case load, and
she works at five other schools.
Drug addiction, homelessness, a need to earn money to support the family,
language barriers and mental illness are all problems Pardini has
Those factors could keep students home on test day as well as regular school
days, she said.
One student stopped coming to school after her mother was imprisoned for
drug use. Her stepfather was mentally ill. She had younger siblings who
"Some of our kids, after I've been to their homes and seen the lives they
come from, if that kid goes to school two days in a year, I'm thinking,
'This is a miracle,'" she said.
"Whoever came up with this idea wasn't going to these houses and wasn't
seeing the problems that kid is coming from."
Suzanne Pardington covers K-12 education. Reach her at 925-943-8345 or
Post a Message to arn-l: