‘No Child’ changes weighed


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Local school administrators are eagerly waiting to see what changes the Obama administration will propose for modifying how K-12 education is monitored.

White House officials said they would ask Congress to increase education spending for fiscal 2011 by about $3.5 billion — a 7.5 percent increase over fiscal 2010. Though no specific details were released, part of the money will go toward a plan to overhaul No Child Left Behind, the federal law that tracks public schools’ annual progress.

Local officials said they hope the move will change the policies on sanctions as well as reform how schools are judged.

The majority of Iowa City schools are considered failing under current adequate yearly progress standards, said Pam Ehly, the director of instruction for the Iowa City School District. Officials said the new accountability system — one that won’t be based solely on test scores — would better exemplify schools’ progress.

“We have some really great schools, and the adequate yearly progress standards provide the public perception that our schools are not up to par or are not providing quality education to our students, and that is the furthest thing from reality,” said Tuyet Dorau, an Iowa City School Board member.

The current standards have been criticized for many reasons, one being a small amount of students’ test scores can represent an entire school, Ehly said.

Standards aren’t a bad thing, she said. But local officials are concerned the accompanying sanctions do nothing to further student growth.

If a school is not meeting federal standards after one year, parents have the option of transferring their children to a different school.

Sanctions continue to increase each year if schools continue to lag behind expectations. They may even have to close after four years of not meeting standards.

Karrie Craig, former president of the Districtwide Parents’ Organization, said these sanctions often results in even lower scores for schools as higher-scoring students leave.

“Free tutoring is much more helpful to students than leaving the school,” she said. “Many people do not realize all of the resources they are leaving behind.”

School District officials have acknowledged a change is needed in how academic progress is tracked. The issues they cite are mirrored by federal officials.

“We want an accountability system that factors in student growth, progress in closing achievement gaps, proficiency towards college and career-ready standards, high-school graduation and college-enrollment rates,” Arne Duncan, the U.S. Department of Education secretary, said in a Feb. 1 speech.

Both local and federal officials said they hope to leave behind the unrealistic goals that mark current legislation.

The main goal set in 2001 by No Child Left Behind was having all schools nationwide reach a level of 100 percent proficiency no later than 2014 — a utopian goal, Duncan said.

In line with the act, Iowa City schools were working toward 100 percent proficiency by 2014. But, Craig said, that goal is “simply not doable.”

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