Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Will NCLB Become SAS?

A few weeks back I received an email from Senator Harkin's office announcing that he was introducing the Strengthening America's Schools Act, which is designed in essence to replace the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Senator Harkin chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) that is responsible for federal policy. Most people are familiar with the focus on the accountability measures that accompany the NCLB legislation which mandates 100% proficiency by 2014. After the legislation was enacted in 2001, a benchmark proficiency level was established and each subsequent year that benchmark was raised until ultimately reaching 100%-which is on the horizon and will be the requirement for this next academic year. Schools that do not meet the benchmark for two consecutive years are placed on "The List" and designated as Schools in Need of Assistance (SINA). Once this designation is assigned, the school has to develop a plan to get off "The List". 

Up until the last couple of years, "The List" was reserved for larger metropolitan school districts. Those districts often times ended up with an unfair stigma because on the surface it appeared that the smaller schools were outperforming them. You see, part of the reporting requirement is to carefully scrutinize subgroup data. In small schools much of the subgroup data is too small to be statistically relevant so is discounted when it comes to measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is the metric used to determine "The List". 

As the trajectory increases every year (for the 2012-2013 school year the benchmark is 94%) subgroup data begins to factor in more with the smaller schools just by the sheer fact that the benchmark has increased to the point where the subgroup is larger than the total percent of expected proficiency.

In Hudson we have not been on "The List", but have been on the watch list a couple of times. Now the main question that we are in the process of answering is will we be on "The List" this year? Well, we don't know the answer to that yet but here is what we do know. The benchmark will require 94% of students to be proficient. In Hudson, we currently identify approximately 10% of students for special education (it is actually a little higher than that, but let's keep the number simple). It is common for special education students not to have achieved proficiency. Let me give you one quick illustration. In one of our grades, 97.06% of students who are served in the general education classroom are proficient. That is compared to 25% proficiency for special education students served in that same grade.When you look at that grade in total, 89.47% are proficient. If you have ever heard of the term 'achievement gap' that is what we are talking about. So to combat those numbers and try to close that gap we provide intensive instruction to our special education students, develop RTI lessons, and offer other additional services that may even include summer school. And that is not the only place where an achievement gap is prevalent! We also look at the poverty rate, which hovers between 21-26%. Again in one of our metrics, that gap is 96.30% and 44.44% respectively.

There are a couple of other variables that must be considered such as whether or not the student was in the district for the Full Academic Year (FAY), but that gives a flavor of how "The List" is calculated. 

So this brings me full circle back to the opening with Senator Harkin's announcement that he has introduced the Strengthening America's Schools Act. The language in his announcement (and in all policymakers) has been unsympathetic to the shortcomings of NCLB, saying it "...ultimately led to lower standards, a more narrow curriculum, and an inflexible 'one size fits all' approach to school improvement.....placing unfair pressures on teachers to 'teach to the test', and a punitive model'. When there are 496 Iowa schools on "The List" during the 2012-2013 school year one cannot help but wonder if it is the schools that are falling short, or if it is the legislation that has fallen short.

Well, the update is that the legislation was passed through the committee last week so it would appear to be headed for a full hearing in the Senate. The challenge is that it was passed out of the committee on a straight party line vote. Without bipartisan support the legislation would appear to be doomed even though it stands a reasonable chance of making it out of the Senate and into the House. 

I wish they would hurry...2014 is only 6 months away.

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