NCLB cost me $50. (or at least my school district)

I was reading the other day in the Watertown Public Opinion about something I’d heard about before at home, regarding the application of NCLB to special education. Basically, one of the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act is that it lumps the achievement standards for children utilizing special education along with the everyone else, without consideration for the fact that the special-ed kids might be receiving special education services for a reason.

From the Watertown Public Opinion:
The biggest challenge for Watertown , assistant superintendent Leslie Hanson said, is meeting proficiency in its sub groups: groups of 10 or more people in areas of ethnicity, low socio economics, special education and limited English proficiency.

“Overall, the Watertown school district did very, very well,” Hanson told the Public Opinion today (Friday). “ Watertown will always be a district that has many subgroups, so all of our subgroup categories also have to make proficiency”

The high school, however, did not meet adequate progress in four subgroups. The school did not meet proficiency in special education math, and it did not meet the participation rate for low socio economic reading and math and special education reading.

“The participation rate will be very easy to fix,” Hanson said, saying that the issue last year was that three new students moved into the school late in the year and didn’t test. From now on, any student who moves into the district during the testing period will have to take the test.

In order to improve proficiency in special education math, the school likely will make some changes in the curriculum and possibly add a program to help students with math.

“There is a real conflict in special education and the No Child Left Behind,” Hanson said, “because the special education students have an individual education plan written to their level.”

The students are all tested at the required grade level even if they are not learning at that level, she said. That will make it difficult for the school district ever to meet the state’s proficiency level, Hanson said.
Oh, those IEP’s that dictate how the student is taught? Those are federally required as well. Because I’m just a babe in the woods on this stuff, I went to my resident expert (the wife, MP) on the problem of NCLB application of achievement standards to special education students. And I got it.

So, without further ado, some guest commentary by my wife, MP on NCLB’s application to special ed students, and why it isn’t necessarily right that it could potentially cost some school districts $50 per student:
SD is following federal guidance that requires students to be held accountable for grade level achievement or if they are a student with a significant cognitive disability, they are accountable to alternate grade level achievement standards. It's a goal designed by the feds to ensure we are pushing all students towards the highest standards possible. Many (not all) in the federal level have publicly stated we do a disservice to students in special education - I believe making an assumption that educators never cared how much students in special ed were challenged or how much they learned.

If you believe first and foremost in the tenets of special education - which is the need for an individualized approach to education and achievement, it is directly in the opposite direction of NCLB which says "all will achieve similar growth". The system does not allow states or district to show individual growth. It aggregates the groups and sets a mark for where they believe all students should be. This is the annual measurable objective - which takes a percentage jump every couple of years to address reaching the mythical "100%" mark for all students in 2013. So, while I know my students in special education have growth, but not at the same rate as their peers in regular education, I am unable to say we made "adequate yearly progress", because the group is off the mark from the AMO.

Yes, there are some parameters around the state and federal system that make allowances for a significant "leap" from one year to the next for a subgroup - but even that can be so far beyond what this group can do together. There is some movement from the Feds to allow a "growth model" but SD was not accepted as a state to try a growth model (even though we are pretty much the Pollyanna of the NCLB world as far as I'm concerned )

Other factors that are beyond districts control are the changes made yearly to the testing tools, and the accompanying standards upon which students are measured. These changes are necessary to satisfy the federal standards for testing under NCLB - trust me, I know what I'm saying when I remark that SDDOE spends more than 1/2 of its time on addressing our testing systems to try and satisfy the Feds. Of course, someone will say "you just want to teach to the test" Well, DUH - if you are teaching the standards upon which the test is based, yes, you are teaching to the test. Standards are necessary for consistency and the ability to show/measure progress - but with the standards and tests being a moving target, it is a most difficult dance to nail down.

So, schools will continue to address the requirements, and special education students will be held to nearly impossible standards of performance, all the while we are missing the real "deal" on growth. Students are growing in their knowledge and we can show it, just not in the way the feds have designed. The unfortunate and probably unanticipated impact is that students are disheartened and educators as well to work under a system that highlights a subgroup that struggles and places them as the "responsible" party when a district doesn't get its extra 50.00 per student this year.

You will see most of your small districts still doing "well" as far as AYP and school improvement issues go - this is because they don't have a large enough subgroup at buildings and/or district levels for AYP to kick in - N size for all subgroups is 10. So - your Sioux Falls, and Rapids and so forth are all feeling this first - I suppose some people who feel our public system needs a shaking will say this makes them look like whiners. Well, I can tell you I'm not a whiner in any way - I know this system doesn't do what it tried to do for this group of students. YES , schools have improved in many ways - I believe educators and administrators are more educated about data and good instructional practices which makes some of this pain worthwhile. I expect that in 2007 (or more likely later) the feds will take up NCLB again for reauthorization and will try to alleviate some of these major kinks. I'm not expecting huge changes, but I know I'll be knocking on my representatives doors to make this act better for ALL.
My wife was happy for the opportunity to explain a lot of this, because in her regular role in special ed, she rarely gets to use the word "DUH." But it does point out a huge flaw in NCLB that should be addressed.

When the federal government dictates the use of specialized teaching plans for students in need of assistance, it's unfair to school districts to penalize them by forcing a one size fits all standard on those same kids.


lexrex said…
when the federal government dictates anything about local education, it's a problem.
Anonymous said…
It's time for states to leave the department of education (yes, and the money that goes with it).
Anonymous said…
Is this the small government that conservatives craze? I believe the term RINO used so often applies to the current adminstration and congress.
Anonymous said…
Hey, you Republicans, last I checked NCLB is another one of your babies. There were Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a Republican President when this passed. You guys can claim this turkey. Educators have been complaining about NCLB for years but GWB has turned a deaf ear to the problems MP has pointed out.
Anonymous said…
As a dyed-in-the-wool, red-blooded Republican, I think lexrex and anon 5:59 are right on. We need to take back local control of our schools or our children's education is going to suffer even more than it has already.

We don't need any more political correctness, we need proficiency in reading, writing and arithmetic, all skills that have declined locally since the federal government and the state government has become involved in education.

Get rid of teacher tenure, give ALL control of the local school system to the school board and the parents, and fund the schools through local effort and the trust money set aside specifically for education from school and public lands.
Anonymous said…
NCLB may have its flaws relative to special education. But if you ever had a special ed child i think you would be glad that standards are being raised. Congress should work together to solve this problem the next time NCLB and/or IDEA gets reauthorized. Democrats want to give up on NCLB - that's not a solution!
Anonymous said…
It's not only Dems who want to give up on NCLB, all the Repubs I've talked to, including all five of our school board members, can't wait until someone gives it the ax.
Anonymous said…
Here's what your heros in D.C. have to say.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Wednesday the No Child Left Behind Act is close to perfect and needs little change as its first major update draws near.

"I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory soap: It's 99.9 percent pure or something," Spellings told reporters. "There's not much needed in the way of change."
Anonymous said…
I just finished watching ABC's "Stupid in America" on 20/20 with John Stossel (sp?). This show made so much sense it's amazing that any main stream media would air it, much less ABC. I think Strossel has the answers to our problems with education. Did anyone else see this show?
Anonymous said…
The Rapid City Journal had a good editorial about NCLB Sunday.

Here's the url:

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