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Hall school superintendent has favorable talks with US education secretary
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Hear Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, detail the biggest surprise he encountered while conversing with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently lent an ear to four Atlanta-area school system superintendents, one of whom was Hall County schools superintendent Will Schofield.

The superintendents of Cobb and Gwinnett county school systems and the Atlanta school system joined Schofield in a meeting with Spellings at the Capitol building Tuesday afternoon. Spellings was in Atlanta for the day to award an Atlanta elementary school the No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School Award.

Schofield said their conversation focused mostly on the 7-year-old federal mandate No Child Left Behind and its effects in classrooms.

"It was a very candid conversation for about an hour and a half," Schofield said. "It was refreshing. ... I give her all kinds of credit for being open enough to ask practitioners out in the field, ‘How can we make (No Child Left Behind) better?’ I think she is to be applauded for that. I haven’t seen a whole lot of that in the past 10 years."

The mandate could undergo reauthorization during the next Congressional session, allowing legislators to make what some educators say are much needed changes in the law. Since January, Spellings has traveled to more than 22 states to speak with educators about No Child Left Behind.

Schofield said he seized the opportunity Tuesday to push his proposal for the federal mandate to adopt a national growth model assessment. Instead of state tests such as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, Schofield and other local educators are calling for a growth model assessment that would chart the "value add" of a child’s learning through each school year as they move toward high school graduation.

The superintendent explained the current state test, which measures school accountability under No Child Left Behind, determines only whether students have learned a specified body of knowledge as outlined in their grade-level curriculum, leaving all students to fall in the same pass or fail categories regardless of their ability levels. Schofield said a growth model test would track students progress throughout each school year, assessing whether a special education student advanced a year in both math and reading as well as whether a gifted student made a year’s progress on their higher learning level.

"You have to become extremely concerned that we have a federal mandate that’s now in its seventh year, that has not required the evidence of the effectiveness of education to be how much are children gaining," he said. "It continues to be based upon average scores of disparate students, which is troublesome."

Schofield said he was extremely surprised to find himself in the majority at the meeting with his proposal to bring national standards and assessments into the realm of state education as quickly as possible. He said he’s often believed he was in the vast minority of educators who felt it important to have national tests for states to adopt on a voluntary basis.

The Hall County superintendent said he also related to Spellings his concern that No Child Left Behind is discouraging school systems from focusing on foreign language, technology, communication skills and gifted students.

While Spellings listened "graciously," Schofield said any major changes in the bill will likely fall outside Spelling’s realm of authority.

"She would be the first one to say that it will be the next president, the next administration, whoever that may be, that will really stand with the opportunity of making any sweeping changes in No Child Left Behind," he said.