Juile Underwood on NCLB

From the Wisonsin State Journal:

Underwood: Federal schools measure is failing
Federal schools measure is failing

June 28, 2007

No one can argue against the idea of holding our public schools accountable for the quality of education provided for our children. No one can dispute that we must do more to ensure that all children receive an excellent education.

But the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) does little to help either of those goals. When it comes to providing the constructive feedback necessary to help schools improve, the mechanism prescribed by NCLB fails miserably.

This reporting mechanism, the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), creates misperceptions that our schools are “failing,” when AYP often has little to do with the quality of schools.

Further, use of the label “failing” demeans the very educators who have dedicated their professional lives to improving schools in the face of complex challenges, many of which are outside the realm of the public schools.

Locally, the recent AYP reports (Wisconsin State Journal, June 13) — which labeled all four of Madison’s public high schools as “failing” despite state data much to the contrary — served only to mislead the public. They join a long and growing list of examples of the inadequacy and punitive nature of this so-called measure.

Under NCLB, a school can be labeled as “failing” for a number of reasons, including many that have nothing to do with actual achievement — for example, simply because fewer than 95 percent of its students within a single demographic subgroup took the test. It’s no wonder that many schools across the nation rate highly on state measures, yet fail to make AYP.

Despite the name, AYP reports do not actually measure “progress.” To measure progress (and get a truer picture of how our schools are doing), we need to look at how the same students perform over time — where they started and where they finished.

The AYP from year to year compares different groups of students. It does not follow a child’s learning from the beginning to the end of the year.

By 2014, NCLB has legislated that 100 percent of the students — including those who have special needs, lack English proficiency, come from disadvantaged circumstances, etc. — must be proficient in reading, math, and science or their schools will receive the dreaded failing grade. How absurd!

By ratcheting up AYP targets for what constitutes “adequate” achievement to unattainable levels and then shaming any school that fails even in one area, NCLB has set the stage to flunk our entire system of public education.

Nothing would delight educators more than to see dramatic increases in student achievement, especially our students from disadvantaged groups. The education community ardently supports high expectations that challenge children to excel.

It is clear that AYP merely masquerades as accountability and adds nothing of value toward the goal of providing the best possible education for all children. Genuine school improvement requires legitimate and meaningful assessments that provide useful feedback for educators and produce a fair and accurate picture for parents, policymakers, and the general public.

Underwood is dean of the UW-Madison School of Education.

Thimas J. Mertz


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Filed under Accountability, AMPS, Best Practices, Local News, No Child Left Behind, School Finance

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