How the NCLB act really works

August 06, 2006|by TOM JANUS

Bob Maginnis' timely column ("Issues that will face this country's next School Board; "July 26) comes on the heels of a candidate forum in which hopeful and incumbent alike declared No Child Left Behind to be a major if not the major issue in education today.

Imagine my frustration upon reading, after years of personal research, e-mails and letters to the editor, the "same ole' same old" about NCLB in our local newspaper.

"The feds have already decided what 'adequate yearly progress' is," declares Maginnis. Wrong! NCLB is an "accountability" act with no mandate other than that by 2014 all - meaning every one, 100 percent - of all children must be at grade level for reading and math. It has 10 principles for developing and measuring progress with a state school system to report on "AYP" (adequate yearly progress.)

It cannot be repeated often enough and firmly enough that each individual state is responsible for setting and reporting on AYP standards.


Here in Maryland, school systems have the use of the state-developed VSC or Voluntary State Curriculum. This "VSC" defines the concepts, principles and mastery facts a student must have at each grade and for each subject taught.

This includes reading and math proficiency for grades K-12, the AYP areas. Not only that, but every year, using the content of its own curriculum, the Maryland VSC develops the questions for the NCLB test. Finally, a statewide panel of teachers agrees on the number of questions a student must answer correctly to be labeled "Advanced or Proficient."

In this misperception, Maginnis is certainly not alone. Recently, Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and self-described Frederick County, Md., parent, writes in The Wall Street Journal that: "Conceptually, 'proficiency' has no objective meaning that lends itself to a cutoff."

He goes on to lament that the "right test results" have "dismaying effects on the content of classroom instruction and devastating effects on teacher morale," and that "we actually lost our best English teacher," who said, upon quitting, "I want to teach my students how to write, not teach them how to pass a test that says they can write."

Again, Maryland uses a state-developed curriculum with state-developed test questions and state-developed cut-off levels for proficiency, all with extensive teacher involvement. Given this, I am at a loss to understand the almost knee-jerk use of the term "teaching to the test," let alone why it would cause a "best" teacher to abandon the classroom.

My definition of a "best" teacher is one who can "teach" the VSC for their subject in a manner that aids students in demonstrating proficiency to any and all who ask-parent, teacher, school, community, state, or federal.

For or agin' NCLB we may be - let's at least all understand it.

Maginnis goes on to say, "the candidates who have been profiled so far have not mentioned any great wrongs that need to be put right." My Herald-Mail profile stated the "wrong" of kindergarten through second grade student performance being less than 100 percent.

In fact, this board and this superintendent do not even have, and do not report, performance standards for children in these grades. Considering that any child who is now pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade will be subject to the 100 percent proficiency standard of 2014, that is a severe situation.

Does the average person think this school system will achieve 100 percent by the time our fifth graders are seniors?

Since the superintendent arrived in 2001, the system has spent 50 percent more money, yet school performance (AYP) has gone up only 10 percent. At that rate, taxpayers are in for "sticker shock" of gigantic proportions.

But fear not, the superintendent's contract expires in five years when the current student performance of 77 percent equals the state AYP goal of 78 percent .

Tom Janus is a candidate for the Washington County Board of Education.

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