Editorial: No child left behind failing


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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was a federal law meant to improve educational accountability by administering yearly standardized tests to K-12 students. States were allowed to set their own scoring standards but had to meet growth measures set by the federal government called adequate yearly progress. All students in all subcategories must meet this standard by 2014 according to the law.

This month, the Iowa Department of Education released a report on No Child Left Behind showing that 64 percent of Iowa schools did not meet the adequate yearly progress standards, up from 52 percent during the preceding year. The report also notes that 94 percent of students were supposed to meet the adequate yearly progress benchmark this year, up from the prior year’s standard of 80 percent. In the coming school year, 100 percent of students are required to meet the adequate yearly progress measure.

“On paper, many more schools and districts are missing targets or moving into higher levels of accountability,” Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck said. “No Child Left Behind’s arbitrary rules fail to recognize that students come to school with different starting points.”

This 12-year-old bill has succeeded in showing which students are struggling the most according to the applied testing method, but it is hopelessly misguided in attempting to hold schools accountable for students’ performance while setting highly unrealistic goals.

No Child Left Behind holds schools accountable for what is largely beyond their control: students’ performance on tests. Schools don’t get to pick their students; they must educate every attending student as well as possible. Of course, schools do bear some responsibility, but to focus solely on schools is extraordinarily unfair both to the institutions and to students.

The average public school receives about half of its funding from local property taxes, which are heavily dependent on the affluence or lack thereof in the community it serves. Schools have to make do with whatever funds they can scrape together. Available resources have a strong influence on schools’ abilities to meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind.

Beyond funding problems, schools simply can’t be expected to be responsible for other factors regarding students themselves. K-12 students are generally in class for six to seven hours on weekdays. Schools can’t control what happens outside that time frame, students’ beliefs and values, or the backgrounds from which students come. All of these social factors strongly influence how students perform on tests.

Iowa towns such as Storm Lake and Marshalltown experienced a huge influx of immigrants from Latin America in recent years and expecting schools in these communities to keep up with standards set up through No Child Left Behind is unreasonable. For most of these Latino immigrants, English is a second language. There is no opportunity to take standardized tests in any other language, so these schools are automatically at a big disadvantage.

Data from the Iowa Department of Education report show that by most measures, students classified as English language learners on average score well below average along with most non-white students and those coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

With many of the problems in dealing with accountability and testing, No Child Left Behind is a miserable failure and needs to be substantially revised so that it will actually help struggling schools educate their students.

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