Posted on Sat, Oct. 02, 2004
23 states' schools are left behind
By Jackie Burrell
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Outside Lake Wobegon, the goal of 100 percent academic excellence is
Educators shuddered when President Bush signed the federal No Child Left
Behind law two years ago with just that goal.
The federal Government Accountability Office joined the fray in a report
released Friday, criticizing wildly varying implementation, rampant data
inaccuracies and a breakdown in federal approval of state plans for compliance.
Although federal authorities have begun administering sanctions to
low-performing schools, they have not approved assessment systems for
nearly half the states, including California, the GAO said.
"It's been a running battle with the Department of Education," said Rep.
George Miller, D-Martinez, coauthor of the law championed by President Bush
as a signature of his administration.
In June 2003, President Bush proudly announced that all 50 states had
federally approved plans for complying with No Child Left Behind. Yet just
11 actually had received full approval of their academic standards and
accountability systems, critical components in assessing student
proficiency and avoiding sanctions under the new law.
"Obviously, when the president had his ceremony in the Rose Garden and said
all the plans were in, (that) it heralded a new day, that was simply not
true," Miller said. "States are falling behind."
About a month later, federal officials approved another 17 plans. But 23
states and the District of Columbia still don't have a final seal of approval.
Richard Whitmore, an Acalanes trustee and former policy adviser to state
schools chief Delaine Eastin, called the Rose Garden event "political theater."
Still at issue in California are how to calculate graduation rates, whether
very small demographic groups must be counted and how to reconcile
federally required participation rates with state law, which allows parents
to opt their children out of testing.
"It's been a trying experience across the board," said California
Department of Education spokesman Rick Miller.
The federal 95 percent test participation rate doomed several local high
schools, including Concord, Ygnacio Valley, Deer Valley and John Swett, to
"failed school" status under the No Child Left Behind law. Even
high-performing Walnut Creek Intermediate failed to muster enough
test-takers among certain groups.
"It's a rock and a hard place," said Bob Rayborn, director of research and
evaluation for Mt. Diablo schools. "But we do our darnedest to get parents
to let their kids be tested."
The Government Accountability Office recommends that federal regulators
issue written timelines and instructions to get the remaining states'
assessment plans approved by the 2005-06 school year. That's when "failing"
schools start to face serious sanctions under No Child Left Behind.
But the federal Department of Education's Eugene Hickok said that the
department already monitors state progress and that written reports are
"The point of the law is every child learning, not adding needless
bureaucratic red tape," said Susan Aspey, a department spokeswoman.
"They never put anything in writing," said Whitmore. "You go back and forth
The federal report noted problems with inaccurate data at all levels, a lag
between when students are tested and when their schools learn the results,
and discrepancies in the way states measure achievement.
"Bad data is a major problem," said Merrill Vargo, director of the Bay Area
School Reform Coalition. "It's never sexy to invest in the data system, but
the fact of the matter is, it's crucial."
"It's no secret that not everybody has been equally enthusiastic about this
piece of legislation," she said.
But she cautioned that the report's criticisms don't invalidate the law's
"You can't throw the baby out with the bath water."
After one round of testing, the report said, many schools don't have time
to react, launch improvement programs or offer federally mandated transfers
to students before another school year begins and they must prepare for the
next round of testing.
This year, for instance, many East Bay parents did not get their children's
spring 2004 test results until late last month due to software and printing
Jessica Molina, a parent at Oak Grove Middle School in Concord, berated Mt.
Diablo school officials about the delay at a school board meeting this
week. Her child's school failed to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" under No
Child Left Behind for the second year in a row, but she didn't find out
until school had already started, she said.
Among states, the variation in academic expectations -- the ways student
achievement is measured -- made for alarming comparisons.
In California schools, 14 percent of elementary-age students were expected
to meet the state's benchmark for reading proficiency in 2002-03.
Colorado's figure was 78 percent. But those numbers don't tell the whole
story, said California's Rick Miller.
"They don't look at what our standards are. They're the gold standard," he
said. "Proficiency in California is a much higher bar than other states.
That's been one of the biggest concerns. It looks like we're falling
behind, when in fact we're leading with what we expect our children to know."
"It's exactly what I've been saying all year," said Assemblywoman Loni
Hancock, D-Berkeley. "It's apples and oranges. We ought to all be using the
same measuring rod."
Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore, agreed that state and federal
education authorities need to work together.
"Certainly, California can't afford to lose any education dollars, so we
need to work with the federal government," Houston said.
Reach Jackie Burrell at 925-977-8568 or jburrell@...
WHAT: UC Berkeley forum on "No Child Left Behind" legislation and how it
affects Bay Area families and schools
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6
WHERE: UC Berkeley, Valley Life Sciences Building, Room 2040. Campus map
available online at www.berkeley.edu/map/.