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East Texas educators welcome changes to No Child Left Behind

By Christina Lane
Aug. 8, 2011 at 11 p.m.


The federal rules of the game could be changing for several East Texas schools.

With efforts to reform No Child Left Behind stalled in Congress, the Obama administration said Monday that it was taking steps to override the centerpiece requirement of the school accountability law requiring 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he was taking action because of "universal clamoring" from officials in nearly every state who say they cannot meet requirements of the Bush-era federal education law. He called it a "slow-motion train wreck."

So Duncan is working on a plan to waive the law's proficiency requirements for states that have adopted their own testing and accountability programs and are making other strides toward better schools.

East Texas educators welcomed the move.

"State accountability evaluates the grades and content more accurately," said Carol Greer, spokeswoman for Hallsville ISD. "Also, students who remain in school additional years and work toward a high school diploma are treated as failures in the AYP system; but not so in the state system. In certain cases, one student in one student subgroup may determine whether a district or campus does or does not meet AYP. What business bases all the work of all their employees on the lowest standard of measurement?"

<strong>Dismal reports</strong>

Several East Texas school districts, including Hallsville, suffered a blow last week when Adequate Yearly Progress reports - or AYP - were issued by the federal government. Districts including Longview, Pine Tree, Hallsville and Kilgore, did not meet the federal standards under No Child Left Behind, which calls for them to complete more paperwork and monitoring. The districts were rated at least acceptable, however, on the state accountability measures. Hallsville, in particular, was rated as recognized by the state.

Kilgore ISD Superintendent Jody Clements said that highlights a problem between the federal and state systems.

"You're going to do really well on one system and not on the other," Clements said. "We did good on our state tests, but not on AYP - Hallsville, too. The goal of 100 percent passing by 2014 sounded good seven or eight years ago, but I think it's time to make some changes. We feel like our kids have been successful."

Texas does have its own testing and accountability measures. The 2010-11 school year saw the end of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and the 2011-12 school year is ushering in a new educational era under the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which is expected to be a more rigorous exam than TAKS. Texas also measures accountability by rating schools and districts from exemplary to academically unacceptable.

<strong>Raising the bar</strong>

"With the introduction of more rigorous state testing this coming school year, it's a commonly held opinion that scores statewide could very easily drop," said Adam Holland, Longview ISD spokesman. "When you raise the bar, that's what happens initially - you take a step back to move three steps forward. NCLB allows states to set their own passing standards, so there's a real possibility that our new rigor is going to make us look much worse (in the eyes of the federal government) in 2014. This has already happened in several other states."

Duncan said current law penalizes states for making such changes. It labels schools as not meeting the grade and tells them what they can and cannot do with their federal dollars.

"We can't have a law on the books that impedes that kind of progress, that stands in the way of that kind of courage," he said.

About 38,000 of the nation's 100,000 public schools fell short of their test-score targets under the federal law last year and Duncan predicted that number could increase to 80,000 this year.

Clements said another aspect of the federal system that concerns him revolves around special education students.

"The federal programs want us to test our students at a higher level, and that includes our special education students," he said. "It is calling for us to push them to a place they don't need to be."

<strong>Focusing on education</strong>

Kilgore ISD would not cut back on its educational programs or offerings, regardless of what happens at the federal level.

"We would continue to push what we're doing now. We're already looking at how we can become more successful," Clements said.

"If they would look again at the system, it would help with the pressure and the additional things we are being required to do - the paperwork, sending letters home to parents. Parents don't know what AYP means when we have to say we didn't make AYP in a letter. ... It creates problems for us. We would hope they would trust us to continue to do what is best for our district," Clements said.

Holland and Greer echoed Clements' sentiment that school districts would continue striving for student achievement regardless of changes at the federal level.

"It does not matter if it is the federal testing or state testing guidelines, our practice has been, is now, and will continue to be that the Hallsville ISD staff will work to provide the best education possible for every student, and help them be successful in school and life."

In recent months, several states have asked for waivers, while Montana, Idaho, and South Dakota announced they plan to ignore parts of the law.

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