End NCLB now; stop declaring our schools failures

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Most Minnesota students are taking No Child Left Behind-mandated state tests this week. These tests will determine how schools fare under the federal law. Results will be released in August.

As of last year, half of all Minnesota schools failed to meet NCLB standards. Each year the standards rise, so it’s logical to predict that this year more than half of the state’s schools will be found wanting despite any real improvement that may have occurred. In fact, NCLB’s rules are so absurd that they require every school to meet standards by 2014, a standard that dooms every school to failure. This is not only unrealistic, it affects community understanding of their schools. A community’s perception of their school is adversely colored when the school is labeled as “failing.”

In addition, NCLB forces schools to teach to the test. To improve their standardized test scores, schools are spending more time and resources on test preparation and have decreased class time spent on arts and other subjects. The tests’ rules are unrealistic for special education and non-English speaking students. Almost 90 percent of the principals who responded to a Minnesota 2020 survey say special education students should not be tested at grade level, while 88 percent feel the same about Limited English Proficient students.

Minnesota’s NCLB test, MCA-II, is an ineffective measure of student development. Most educators agree that an assessment that measures student growth over many years is more useful than the MCA-II. Principals in the Minnesota 2020 survey also overwhelmingly agreed that the MCA-II is not an effective enough assessment to measure teacher or administrator performance.

In 2007, Minnesota 2020 partnered with Macalester College to survey 87 elementary school teachers in Chaska School District 112 about their attitudes on NCLB. The report, “No Child Left Behind: The Teachers’ Voice,” found that:

  • Sixty five percent say identifying schools that have not met Adequate Yearly Progress will not lead to school improvement.
  • More than 65 percent say NCLB increases teacher focus onto students just under the passing score at the expense of other students.
  • Only 13 percent say sanctions improve teaching.
  • Almost 90 percent say they were under unfair pressure to improve student test scores.
  • About 88 percent believe NCLB has caused teachers to ignore important aspects of the curriculum.

Clearly, NCLB and the test that supports it are not improving our education system. As parents, we encourage all Minnesota students to do well on these tests, but as citizens we are smart enough to know this test creates as many problems as it’s intended to solve. NCLB is up for reauthorization in Congress, and a new “Blueprint for Reform” is being considered to replace it. With luck the law will change for the better, but until the law is changed, NCLB remains the law of the land and Minnesota teachers must take the test seriously.

Hopefully, NCLB will soon be an unpopular policy of the past. However, if the law isn’t changed fast enough, or if the changes aren’t sufficient, then Minnesota must be ready to do the right thing and pull out of NCLB entirely. Our students, teachers and communities deserve no less.