Sharpen those No. 2 pencils: Test taking season has arrived in schools.
Across Georgia, in schools both public and private, spring marks the arrival of “test season,” a time to that evaluate the progress of students. For public schools, not only are students evaluated, but the school and districts are evaluated under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is still in effect despite the fact that it was scheduled to be re-authorized, or re-written, four years ago. NCLB, which is the 2001 form of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is based on a standards-based reform model comprised of three principles: state-level content standards, corresponding tests, and accountability for results. The act sets a definition of “adequate yearly progress” that schools must meet.
In 2001, targets, called “annual measurable objectives,” were set for schools to meet.
The targets for improvement called for increased performance toward the year 2014 when every child, was expected to meet those expectations. These were lofty goals that the authors of NCLB knew were unattainable; yet, they set the bar high hoping that during the life of the act, schools would keep reaching toward this goal.
NCLB officially expired in September 2007. However, in the absence of a new bill, the requirements continue.
With the 2012 presidential election looming, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have appealed to Congress to fast-track this legislation, warning that 82 percent of U.S. schools will likely not make “adequate yearly progress” with the unrealistic “annual measurable objectives” for 2011.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the new chairman of the House Education and Work Force Committee, responded to the aggressive push by the president by saying that the House would not approve a single comprehensive education bill and would instead break up the reauthorization of NCLB into separate pieces of legislation. Obama has called for an education bill that he can sign next year, and it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.
This year, the annual measurable objectives are for 75.7 percent of students to pass the mathematics portion and 80 percent to pass the Reading-English Language Arts of the CRCT in grades 3-8.
On the Georgia High School Graduation Test, 81.2 percent are expected to pass the math portion and 90.8 percent are expected to pass the English Language Arts portion. These are somewhat realistic goals for a school with a student population that does not have large numbers of students in the challenging sub-groups. But it is in the sub-groups where making AYP becomes difficult, most notably in the sub-group of students with disabilities.
For example, if you have 112 students with disabilities in a middle school, 90 of those students must pass the CRCT Reading-Language portion of the test in order for your school to make AYP. In schools with the level of severe disabilities, this target may not be attainable.
The same is true for other sub-groups who are challenged. In fact, some of this borders on the ridiculous. Would you expect 80 percent of students who are new to the English language to pass the English Language portion of a test? Or 90 percent of students in a high school that are newly English proficient?
It is important for parents and the public to understand that AYP results this year are the result of flawed and outdated policy. There will likely be many schools in our area that do not meet the targets in a particular sub-group. It is possible that a school with the highest test scores in the district for all students do not make AYP due to their sub-group of students with disabilities or English Language learners.
For those schools who have a large number of students living in poverty, new to the English language, or with disabilities, their task is daunting.
I encourage parents to focus on the progress of their individual child. If your child’s school does not make AYP, get the information from the school as to why the targets were not met.
None of us should assume that a school is “failing” if it does not make AYP. It may be another two years before we have a reauthorization and new policy developed. In the meantime, encourage our children and our teachers to not let flawed policy to keep them from working to make our schools exciting and inviting places to learn.
To all students in our public and private schools, show them what you know, and best wishes on the tests.
Merrianne Dyer is superintendent of Gainesville City Schools