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Editorial: Remediation for NCLB

The headline has to discourage any supporter of the public schools: “Only 10 Rowan schools pass on latest federal testing report.”
And it’s not just the Rowan-Salisbury School System. In Kannapolis, only three of eight schools made “adequate yearly progress,” the catchphrase adopted by the federal No Child Left Behind accountability program. Four out of every five Cabarrus County schools didn’t pass.
But should we be discouraged? No, confused is more appropriate. And angry if you really think about it.
Residents are justifiably confused to see the federal report card when just a few days earlier, local school officials released end-of-grade math test results that showed proficiency ratings up in grades 3-5, 7 and 8.
This past year, school officials say, 65.7 percent of the students in the combined elementary grades passed the final math quiz.
So how did we really fail?
Federal officials raised the bar for their latest report card, now requiring at least 77.2 percent of students to show they are “proficient.”
This includes a variety of “subgroups” of students, including those with mental disabilities and others who don’t speak English as their primary language.
No one argues that the public schools should do their very best to help these students, but should schools get a passing or failing grade based on those students’ scores?
Even though the Bush administration and Congress hatched this entire new testing program, our federal leaders have never come through with the extra money local school systems need to hire extra teachers and tutors to work with the students having the hardest time.
Oops! No, America is too busy right now spending billions on the war and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan while cutting taxes for America’s richest citizens, the ones whose children most likely attend private schools.
Further complicating matters, NCLB adds another layer of federal oversight and assessment to the separate accountability system that N.C. lawmakers already had in place before we ever heard of No Child Left Behind. We haven’t even seen those results for this year, which, when they’re published, will only confuse us again with a different set of standards and more educational lingo.
Yes, we do need to hold our schools accountable. Educators aren’t arguing that point. Most who go into this profession want to help all children and see them succeed.
But we don’t need multiple layers of accountability, which amount to more needless bureaucracy. And schools shouldn’t have to answer to unreasonable demands without reasonable resources.
NCLB sets a worthy goal in mandating that schools help all students meet their maximum achievement levels, but rather than inspiring educators and boosting public confidence in our schools, the moving-target testing regimen too often demoralizes teachers, confuses the public and stigmatizes entire systems. As it considers reauthorization of the law, Congress should aim for reforms that maintain high standards but give schools more resources and more flexibility. Otherwise, NCLB deserves an “F” for failing to support the educational partnership it promised.

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