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'No Child' assessments will test elected officials as well

December 10, 2002

When the federal "No Child Left Behind" law was passed, many rejoiced in the belief that all of the nation's schools would be held to the same standard. But some West Virginia educators worry that one test a year isn't enough to measure student progress.

Before the new law was passed, West Virginia's educators had already begun a push to change the state's tests, but they welcomed $4.2 million in federal aid to help with the process.

But a requirement that every student group show improved performance every year has school officials uneasy, given what seem to be some conflicting terms of the law.

For example, although state officials say schools will be assessed only on the scores of students who are there for a full academic year, another provision allows parents to transfer students out of low-performing schools.

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How that helps low-income students, whose families are most likely to move from district to district, is unclear.

And given the research that indicates that a school with a mix of family incomes is better for all students, it's uncertain how encouraging parents to flee problem-plagued schools helps those institutions.

On the plus side, federal aid - in the form of technical assistance and cash - will be available to help low-performing schools. In some cases, that will mean funds to allow school systems to bring in educational trouble-shooters to work on new teaching methods.

The most daunting obstacle schools are likely to face will not be academic, but political. As Lloyd Jackson, chairman of the West Virginia Senate Education Committee, told the Associated Press, once significant numbers of schools are labeled as "failing," there will be pressure from many in office to change the law.

There will be fine-tuning necessary, to be sure, but citizens should resist pressures to water down this program before there's enough data accumulated to know whether it works. Elected officials need to muster the courage to stay the course, instead of bailing out when the going gets rough.

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