Federal schools law up for debate again
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 14, 2007

Pat Kossan

It has been five years since the No Child Left Behind Act swept into classrooms across the nation. It's time for Congress to decide whether to reauthorize the law and begin debating how it might change.

The controversial mandate has required states to create uniform learning goals for every grade, to test students in reading and math from third grade through high school and to have a qualified teacher in every classroom.

Business, education and political organizations are weighing in now, trying to sway Congress toward big and small improvements. None of these fixes would be easy, and few of the fixes are the same. One of these groups is the 15-member Commission on No Child Left Behind, which includes two Arizona residents and released its recommendations Tuesday. The group attracted attention because of the private foundations that supported it, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and Arizona State University Vice President Eugene Garcia sat on the commission.
After conducting hearings across the country with educators and researchers, here are some of its recommendations:


Measure the performance of principals and teachers by the academic achievement of their students.


Refine the way federal officials use testing data to determine which
schools pass or fail the federal "adequate yearly progress" standard to
include test scores from more poor and minority kids.


Require more aggressive and meaningful ways to improve schools that
consistently fail to make adequate yearly progress.


Create a national set of grade-level learning standards and tests, and
encourage states to use the national model. That would help ensure that
fifth-graders learn the same skills, whether they live in New York or New
Mexico.


Help all states establish a high-quality and reliable data collection
system that tracks student progress over time.

As is typical with these reports, critics attacked the plan within hours of
its release. For example, the nation's largest teachers union called it an
"ill-conceived proposal." The Massachusetts-based National Center for Fair &
Open Testing said it was filled with "flawed logic, unreasonable
requirements and bad policy."

Barrett said he expected that his top concerns, measuring teachers by their
students' performance and creating national standards, would be
controversial. He wants a realistic measure of student skills. It would
replace the current system in which state tests, such as AIMS exams, show a
vast majority of students working at grade level, while more rigorous
national and international tests show that far fewer students are keeping
up.

"Every year we put off quantitative measurements and implementation of
improvements in our schools is another graduating class lost," Barrett said

Garcia said the most important recommendation is a national effort to
collect data that track the progress of a child, a school and a teacher. It
would help researchers find the best ways to improve learning, he said.

This flurry of activity in Washington, D.C., is not likely to change what
Arizona's students, teachers and parents have come to expect in their
classrooms. Even before No Child Left Behind became law, a state law drove
similar changes into Arizona schools. The annual AIMS reading, writing and
math test will remain the primary measurement of a school's success in
teaching the state's grade-level standards.

The debate about how to improve the federal law could drag on, perhaps to
the end of this year and even into 2008. Congress is expected to retain the
law's broader goals, such as closing the learning gap between rich and poor
students and ensuring that teachers are qualified.



Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com.