Officials blast No Child Left Behind after 800 Iowa schools miss standards


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This year, Iowa has 800 schools and 61 school districts that failed to meet the No Child Left Behind standards, yet officials claim the program is flawed.

The number of Iowa schools that did not meet those standards rose to 58 percent, according to a report released by the state Department of Education. Both local officials and experts dispute the standards, which include Adequate Yearly Progress. They feel the standards set unrealistic expectations, and are not a fair measure of student achievement, though they felt the intent of the law was in the right place.

“We’re talking about the number of kids who can hit a test score,” said Peter Hlebowitsh, departmental executive officer for department teaching and learning. “It’s a one-shot measure, distorts curriculum and teaching as teachers tend to teach only to lift the test scores.”

The sanctions of No Child Left Behind only apply to Title 1 schools, which is a type of federal funding. Iowa has 205 Title 1 funded schools that will face the sanctions.

The state was granted a temporary freeze from certain requirements in June, after an application by the Iowa Department of Education. Otherwise, even more schools would have failed to meet the standards.  Jason Glass, the director of the state Department of Education, also thinks the formula used to identify the schools, and districts in-need-of-assistance needs to be changed.

“We do not have 800 failing schools; we do have some that need help and we need to better identify them,” he said.

Schools are forced to follow these sanctions, after failing to meet standards for two years, and face certain protocols for each year they continue to not meet the goals.  Schools in this situation must offer a choice for students to transfer, but experts feel this and other stages are not very effective.

“We’ve known after the first three to five years [after No Child Left Behind went into effect] that not many parents took advantage of the choice option, but more students used tutoring. There didn’t seem to be a great need at the local level,” Diane Rentner, deputy director for the center on education policy, said.

Districts also face sanctions if schools are not up to par and must fix the situation or face stricter penalties.

This year the Iowa City School District progressed to a delay status, an improvement following five years of an in-need-of-assistance label.

A district official said these policies were helpful in making improvements, but expressed concerns with No Child Left Behind’s formula for accessing progress.

“We see [the policies] as very helpful as it helps us get an in-depth look at student achievement,” said Pam Ehly, director of instruction for the district.

Ehly said a limitation is that standards can’t follow some students as they progress.

Glass said the standards for Iowa will increase after the temporary relief runs out since the state was unable to get a long-term waiver due to state policy.

The standards will continue to push Iowa, and other states, to the 2014 goal of 100 percent achievement for all tested students, a goal Glass and experts felt was unrealistic.

“If potentially every state is granted a waiver from a law, then it must be fundamentally flawed, and then we need to look at it,” Glass said.

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