Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

District schools improve to meet NCLB standards

October 18, 2007

We've been critical of the No Child Left Behind educational reform act Congress passed in 2001 and up for reauthorization this year. What is troubling in the legislation is the assumption that 100 percent of students must become proficient at math and reading. The assumption ignored the reality that some students cannot be expected to achieve standards because of disabilities, social disfunction, home environment, unfamiliarity with English or other challengers.

Those concerns were only heightened by Congress and the Bush administration's failure to fund NCLB to the level promised when its standards and harsh consequences were established.

But when we look at recent local test results, we must admit the pressure of meeting NCLB's goals has produced meaningful results in De Soto USD 232.

The noteworthy accomplishment this year was the removal of Starside Elementary School from the list of schools failing to make annual yearly progress. This was accomplished despite a larger enrollment of Hispanic students at the school and can only be attributed to the efforts and dedication of classroom teachers, reading specialists and administrators at the school.

Similar results can be found at De Soto High School, which needed to crunch the numbers of special student populations hard to make AYP a year ago. This year, the school earned a building standard of excellence with 17.7 percent more students scoring at or above standard on state assessments in math and 34.9 percent more students scoring at or above standard on state assessments in reading.

Those results came after a series of reforms at the school to reward achieving students and reach those failing or in danger of doing so. The changes went beyond addressing NCLB concerns because some of the new programs were designed to help students who would not be tested again. When DHS Principal David Morford pitched the ideas to the school board last winter, he said they were embraced by the entire faculty because they understood the need to make improvements were greater than any of the teachers' personal goals.

That unity speaks to the power of the NCLB hammer. Achievement standards will get tougher and schools will be forced to find ways to reach students who might currently be viewed as beyond hope. But we have never heard anyone in the district suggest -- five years ago or today -- that the standards thus far demanded weren't worthy goals. Again, what concerns them is the unrealistic expectation that no students can fail, a goal that is at odds with the entire human experience.

That's a charade masquerading as policy. Recognition of that fact doesn't mean all students shouldn't be taught or expected to show improvement. Nor does it mean that schools should be accountable for demanding standards, even if those first appear out of reach and require new solutions. But they have to be realistic and attainable, and perfect isn't. That should be the goal as Congress reauthorizes the legislation.

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