Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Washington Cuts Montana Schools a NCLB break

Education week reports in this week's edition, that the State of Montana was allowed retroactively to revise its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) proficiency targets downward so that 155 more schools would make "adequate yearly progress" this year. What's going on in Montana?

The underlying assumption of the NCLB law is that all children can reach an arbitrarily set standard of proficiency by 2014.  Each state sets its own standard designated arbitrarily as the proficiency cut score.  There is no basis -- none whatsoever -- for setting the standard at any particular level.   The level set is totally political.  Whatever the level, it will be too high --unattainable-- for some children, and too low to challenge others.  Some states have very high proficiency cut scores, and some much lower.  But no matter what level is set, there is no research that suggests that all students can reach the proficiency level set by any of these states, and in fact, whether you send kids to good schools are bad schools, public schools or private schools, some of them are not going to pass the proficiency level, no matter what it is, because by golly, children are not all the same.

But here's the problem.  NCLB says that all students must reach the State's NCLB standard by 2014, and that is not possible.   At the beginning, states could set the AYP (adequate yearly progress) level at some low percentage of students proficient.   So for example, it might have been acceptable for 65% of the students in any school to reach proficiency in math.   But each year, the percentage is supposed to increase, until eventually, in that utopian year, 2014, all students, 100%, must be proficient, even though everyone knows that's not possible.   If a student has various ethnic or racial groups then each ethnic or racial group of 20 or more students counts separately.  So, an all white school with few disabled students only has one way to fail AYP, but a school with 5 ethnic groups and students with disabilities has six different groups who have to pass the cut score level separately.  

Now as years went by, schools with higher disadvantaged populations started to fail AYP first.   That was no problem, at first, because the school districts who made AYP kind of bragged about it and pretended that their teachers and their curriculum were superior, really.   It was sort of fun, really,  to beat up on disadvantaged kids in disadvantaged schools.  But as the AYP cut scores went up and up, year after year, more and more schools were branded as failures, until the vast majority got "dinged" by AYP, even the schools where the children of bankers, lawyers, and doctors attended.  Not because they were doing worse than before, but because no matter how well you did, the passing scores kept rising and rising.  NCLB was either designed purposely  to make all public schools fail, or it was designed by total blithering idiots, or  a little of both. Even the children of doctors and lawyers and bankers can't all pass an arbitrary proficiency level, because by golly their kids aren't all the same either.

Now some pretty smart people have been warning for years, that it was just a matter of time before all schools, even schools that are highly regarded, would be branded as failures.  A few days ago, the Washington Post reported that some of suburban Virginia's highly rated exceptional schools and districts, are no longer making AYP, because the ever rising score requirements have passed them by too.  That shocked lots of people in the Washington elites who had concocted NCLB.  Nobody ever dreamed that their own schools would get penalized; this was supposed to embarrass schools where other kids attended.   Everybody knows that suburban Virginia has wonderful schools, but  still some students in these fantastic schools just can't reach the ever increasing requirements.  It was ok when urban school districts were branded failures, but once NCLB started to brand mostly white suburban districts as failures, well that was just too much.  There was a rising tide of demands for exceptions, waivers, or anything to prevent these districts from having to pay the penalties that NCLB brings.

This year, the State of Montana had way too many schools fail to make adequate yearly progress, and the leadership of the State and its Congressional delegation demanded relief.  NCLB wasn't supposed to penalize Montana kids either.  The state Superintendent of Montana's public schools wrote:
If the game of basketball operated like NCLB, every student, despite her or his athletic ability or interest, must make the team; and then, the only way a student can score points is by a slam dunk. Under NCLB rules, free throws don't matter, lay-ups don't matter, three-point shots don't matter, assists don't matter, and rebounds don't matter. Only the slam dunk matters. And, over time, the basket keeps rising in height.
"Montana schools", the superintendent wrote,  "have steadily increased the percentage of students reaching proficiency or advanced on its state test. Since 2005-06, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading has increased from 78 percent to 85 percent this year and, in math, from 61 percent to 68 percent."  But that increasing test performance was not rising as fast as the NCLB targets, which must go up to 100 percent by the utopian year of 2014.  And so, Montana, Utah, Idaho, and South Dakota all applied for retroactive reductions in their NCLB proficiency targets.  And by golly,  somebody in Washington listened, and Montana was allowed to go back and lower its goals retroactively.  Bingo, 155 schools that were going to be called failures are now designated as making adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime, the deadlock over NCLB re-authorization continues.  Nobody is willing to fix the law.  Republicans blame Democrats; Democrats blame Republicans.   We are driving our public schools over a cliff.   We have designed a system that is based on the false premise that all children are the same, as if all we have to do is snap our fingers and eventually all children will be perfect.   In the meantime, instead of fixing NCLB for all children, the schools with powerful friends get waivers and exemptions.

Past Post:
AYP Means Are you phooling

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