Local School Districts Support State's Decision to Opt Out of 'No Child Left Behind'
Monday, December 5, 2011 • 7:45am
When the state recently filed for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, it did it with the support of several local school districts who agree with the state’s assertion that the federal initiative is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Schools in the area have been reviewing their state test results over the past few weeks and while the numbers are good, local officials say they don’t believe the federal goal of having 100 percent efficiency in all students are realistic.
“No Child Left Behind is so full of bureaucracy and paperwork that it’s not really helpful for us,” said Millburn Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield. “It may work in school systems where things are horribly wrong, but it would be better for us to use our own ways to help us determine what our students need.”
Crisfield said that while the goals are “laudable,” all the bureaucracy involved is stifling.
The No Child Left behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 was signed into law on Jan. 8, 2002 by then-President George Bush. NCLB represents the president's education reform plan and contains the most sweeping changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since it was enacted in 1965. NCLB changes the federal government's role in K-12 education by focusing on school success as measured by student achievement. It also contains the president's four basic education reform principles:
- Stronger accountability for results
- Increased flexibility and local control
- Expanded options for parents
- An emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work.
Under NCLB, New Jersey students in the third through eighth grades take the Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (ASK) test and the High School Proficiency Test (HSPT) in the 11th grade.
The national objective is for all schools in the United States to make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals by the end of the 2014 school year. If any subgroup of at least 30 students in a school does not make AYP, the school is deemed as failing.
Local educators say NCLB relies too heavily on test scores and punishes schools if they don’t make enough annual progress. It also doesn’t take into account students for whom English is their second language, or students with special needs.
That’s what happened this year in Chatham, where Assistant Superintendent Michael LaSusa said the district failed to meet its testing benchmarks under No Child Left Behind. Lafayette Avenue School failed in their Language Arts testing for special education students, and Chatham Middle School failed to meet benchmarks in both Language Arts and Math testing for special education and Hispanic students.
In Chatham, the subgroups of students include while/Caucasian students, special education students, Hispanic students and Asian/Pacific students, depending on the school.
To pass, students must pass standardized tests at "proficient" or "advanced proficient." If any subgroup of students in a school falls below the target determined by No Child Left Behind, the school fails to pass.
The Obama administration is allowing states to apply for waivers, which would give them more flexibility to improve student achievement and classroom instruction, in exchange for state's coming up with their own reform proposals. New Jersey is one of 11 states that recently applied for a federal waiver from elements of NCLB. New York is expected to apply soon.
LaSusa said No Child Left Behind is affecting the Chatham school district more this year than it has before, and said the shortfall is further proof that “one size doesn’t fit all.”
Another part of the problem, he said, is that school districts don’t receive the testing results for three months after the students take them.
“They are essentially useless to us,” he said. “We don’t receive the results for three months so we can’t identify what the kids need now. We don’t get line items of how they do so we don’t get the data that informs us of student needs, or their learning growth.”
LaSusa said Chatham has its own internal diagnostic tools that are specific to Chatham’s classrooms and disciplines.
“It’s not realistic to think every child in US is going to reach a set level of proficiency,” he said. “The school districts should be able to figure out what’s best for our students.”
Crisfield said Millburn also has its own diagnostic tests, although the district uses the state’s tests as a broad indicator.
“It’s certainly the case that we have fewer students who have special needs, but that number’s not zero,” he said. “Any one student that has increased needs can provide a challenge because you have to try different things to crack the code and learn how to help them reach their potential. It’s the same thing that other districts go through.”
In Livingston, Superintendent Brad Draeger said students continue to perform much better, as a whole, on the state tests, but as with other districts, special education students lag somewhat behind.
During a recent board of education meeting, Draeger pointed out that two years ago students in three Livingston schools did not meet the AYP goals set by No Child Left Behind. Last year all schools met the goals, but this year three schools again failed to meet the goals.
In Madison, students consistently perform in the 90th percentile, according to Lee Nittel, director of curriculum and instruction. He said students test well in language arts and mathematics
In a presentation last week to the board of education, Nittel compared student performance not only with the state generally, but with District Factor Groups, which are comparisons made among similar districts in New Jersey. He reviewed the ongoing NJ ASK, PSAT, HSPA, SAT and Advance Placement. He said that in grade five, the math results were slightly below the advanced proficient, but bounced back up in grade seven. That was partially due, he said, to a change in the test given.
As with other districts, Madison’s results also vary according to the demographics of the student body. Central Avenue School has 41 Hispanic students, a larger portion than the other elementary schools.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi said the state is developing a new paradigm to rate teachers, which will drive instruction, and Nittell said there is an increasing focus on students who may be borderline and helping them to achieve.
In Westfield, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Anita O'Neal told the board of education that this year’s AYP tests showed that Westfield students meet the standard.
"How do we use this data?" O'Neal said. "We use it to assess our curriculum and its implementation. We analyze student results to provide remediation where it's needed."
Governor Chris Christie and New Jersey's acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf announced a package of four reform bills as part of the state's waiver application:
- School Children First Act (S-2881/A-4168): The bill would create a statewide educator evaluation system, ties tenure to effectiveness, ends forced placements and Last-In-First-Out (LIFO) personnel policies by using both seniority and educator effectiveness in staffing decisions and reforms compensation systems.
- Charter Reform Bill (A-4167): The bill increases the number of charter school authorizers, permits public schools to be converted to charter schools by local boards of education as well as the Department of Education Commissioner and increases charter autonomy while aiming to increase accountability.
- Opportunity Scholarship Act (S-1872/A-2810): The bill would provide tax credits to entities contributing to scholarships for low-income students.
- Urban Hope Act (S-3002/A-4264): The bill provides for the creation of up to ten “transformation school projects” in five of the State’s worst performing districts.
The bills were introduced in July.
The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said it agrees with some aspects of the governor's reform agenda but disagrees with others, including the Christie administration's approach to evaluating teachers and granting tenure. The NJEA contends it has a more streamlined approach to teacher evaluation and tenure, which the organization outlined in its own reform agenda.