In our zeal to see that no child is left behind in our schools, we risk having some schools left behind by the unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The act is up for renewal this year, and we believe it should be extended, but with fundamental changes in its one-size-fits-all approach.
The goal of No Child Left Behind is laudable - to ensure each child is receiving an education that will bring them up to grade level. But the implementation has been filled with problems because school systems often deal slowly with change.
Schools can be penalized if they are deemed to be a failing school. A school can be labeled as "failing" if one sub-category doesn't meet the standards for "adequate yearly progress."
Among complaints leveled against the program by school administrators and teachers are that immigrant students with limited English ability and special-education students are supposed to meet the same standards as their peers.
When it comes to students with learning disabilities, the measurement needs changing.
By definition, they are behind students of the same age - otherwise, they wouldn't be in special education classes. Yet, the No Child Left Behind Act states all students are supposed to make adequate yearly progress toward the goal of working at grade level in math and reading by the year 2014.
Bloomington District 87 Superintendent Bob Nielsen said, "It's like saying the entire population will run a six-minute mile by a certain date."
He is bothered that District 87 is considered as not meeting progress goals because Bloomington High School falls behind in one subgroup, special-needs students.
Under the federal law, when there are 45 or more students in a subgroup, they must take the same test and make the same progress as other students. Subgroups can include racial or ethnic groups.
Only District 87 has enough special-education students to trigger that requirement in McLean County.
In arguing that special-education students shouldn't be part of the federal measurement, Nielsen isn't saying they should be left behind.
Other federal rules already require that individualized educational programs be set up for each student identified as a special-needs student.
These individual programs define goals, including academic goals, and how work toward those goals will be measured. The plan can be adjusted during the year to ensure special-education students are getting the support they need to meet their goals, Nielsen said.
Schools shouldn't be penalized or labeled as failing to meet standards because special-education students are not meeting the same targets as the general student population, as long as those students are meeting goals within their individual plans.
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