September 14, 2010
No Child Left Behind needs rewriting
Another year has come and gone and test results related to No Child Left Behind have been released. Seven schools in the Issaquah School District are now considered “failing” — Issaquah Valley Elementary, Grand Ridge Elementary, Briarwood Elementary, Beaver Lake Middle, Issaquah Middle, Issaquah High and Liberty High. But before you consider moving your child to a different school, or your family to a new district, consider this.
The distinction is virtually meaningless.
The way the law is structured, it slices the student body of each school into slivers — mostly along racial lines, but also including special categories for children with special needs or who are just learning English.
A percentage of students in each of these sub-groups must be proficient on the test for the school as a whole to be considered passing. Likewise, if enough students in one sub-group don’t pass the test, the school is failing, even if 100 percent of the students in all the other groups do make the grade.
The system seems largely set up to create failure. In a few years, every student will have to pass the test in order for the school to be considered a passing school. Yes, by 2014, schools will have to achieve a 100 percent pass rate.
We’re not statisticians, but common sense tells us that a 100 percent “pass” rate is impossible. In practical terms, this means that a single child (with a runny nose or raging hormones) could have a bad day on a single test, and the entire school would be considered failing as a result.
The idea behind the No Child Left Behind law was admirable. It has helped focus attention on historically underserved student populations and made educators think hard about how to reach all of their students.
But the law is rapidly outliving its usefulness. Once all schools are failing, then what? The term will lose its meaning and no longer motivate learning communities to improve, since everyone will be failing no matter what they do.
Congress needs to overhaul this law long before we reach that threshold. Educators must find ways to continue to push student achievement forward without unrealistic goals.