Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series on No Child Left Behind.

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series on No Child Left Behind.


Assemblymember Jean Fuller and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said Congress needs to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.


“It’s such a large investment by the federal and state governments to bring us up to standards that are involved in there and the accountability,” said Fuller, also a retired educator and superintendent of the Bakersfield City School District.


She said there are things she would like U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to fix.


“One of the problems that exists that a reauthorization amendment would be good would be more clarity for the [U.S.] Department of Education in the formula areas surrounding English-language learners and students with special disabilities,” Fuller said.


She said the formulas are too rigid, and the testing is not longitudinal. For example, she said, California uses the California English Language Development Test.


“It’s a very labor-intensive, one-on-one measurement of English-language learners’ ability to speak English,” Fuller said. “The problem is when you track the CELDT test individually and then you move the student to Standardized Testing and Reporting, which the state’s No Child Left Behind testing mechanism, the STAR test is not longitudinal. There needs to be coordination so if you know Student A and you follow him all through the CELDT test, and you see that he gains a year of language proficiency every year, then when he moves over to the STAR test, you see if he also continues to gain on subject level.”


She said what happens instead is they’re not coordinated well.


“The bottom line is right now English-language learners are expected to learn English within one year of being in any California school. The next year, they have to be proficient at grade level. It’s just not working for California schools. Different states have different ways that they accomplish this standard.


“We need to reorganize the California state English-language-learning accountability system.”


Fuller said Congress needs to fund No Child Left Behind at the original level specified.


“One of the biggest weaknesses at this time of the No Child Left Behind Act as it’s written for just the federal level is that it did not fund the alternate path for vocational education,” she said. “Right now No Child Left Behind is trying to get every student to be proficient to go to a four-year college after high-school graduation.”


Fuller said California needs to fix some of its own standards and testing regimes.


“Part of our problem is the disconnect between No Child Left Behind and our own state standards.


O’Connell sent his formal recommendations for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Act to members of congressional delegation. Congress is currently considering reauthorization of the law. O’Connell’s recommendations include calling for more flexibility in the way states may hold schools accountable for improvement.


"I strongly agree with the goals of NCLB, but we must amend the law to more fairly and sensibly address the needs of states with established accountability systems and high expectations for schools," O’Connell said.


O’Connell developed the recommendations to amend the act following a series of public hearings he held with education stakeholders throughout the state.


Allowing states to use a growth or improvement model for school accountability, such as California’s Academic Performance Index, is a key element in O’Connell’s package of recommendations sent to members of Congress leading the reauthorization effort.


"The federal system’s status model — a single bar for measuring student achievement — does not recognize even significant gains or drops in achievement by students and schools that are under the arbitrary bar of proficiency," O’Connell said. "California’s Academic Performance Index, a model based on achievement growth from year to year, offers the public a more credible, accurate and more comprehensive picture of school performance.”


He urged Congress to amend the law to allow states the option of using a growth model to measure student achievement.


“The use of growth models also encourages high standards,” O’Connell said. “Because state standards vary widely, states such as California with nationally recognized high standards that expect more of their students are more likely to fall short of the federal status model accountability goal, while states that hold lower expectations may appear to be doing better. This is both misleading and unfair."


“I think that’s a true statement in the area particularly of limited-English proficient and special education,” Fuller added. “The reason I think it’s true is because a higher percentage of the English-language learners in California move around more frequently and are not fluent in their native language.”


O’Connell’s other recommendations include fully funding of the act and making the investment commensurate to NCLB’s expectations a priority throughout the federal appropriations cycle, extending and expanding common-sense flexibility for meeting highly qualified teacher requirements.


He also recommended allowing states and school districts more flexibility and providing more efficient funding for the provision of supplemental educational services and school choice and recognizing parental rights to exempt their children from state testing, and not penalize schools where more than 5 percent of parents exercise that right.


“While I agree with 90 percent of what Jack O’Connell is saying for our state, I think at some point California has to realize that No Child Left Behind is for 50 states, and they’re not going to design No Child Left Behind just to meet what our standards are,” said Fuller. “There’s issues on both sides, and the issues I’m most interested in reauthorization are to be more specific and flexible in the formulas and to finish out the funding for the vocational-education track and standards.”


Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states are required to report the percentages of students achieving proficiency in reading and mathematics for third- through eighth-grade students.


According to a report just released by the U.S. Department of Education, the percentages vary widely across states for each subject and grade combination.


“For grades four and eight, these percentages can be compared to the estimated percentages of students achieving proficiency with respect to the standard established by the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” the report states. “Large discrepancies are observed. This variation could derive from differences in both content standards and student academic achievement from state to state, as well as from differences in the stringency of the standards adopted by the states. Unfortunately, there is no way to directly compare state proficiency standards because states are free to select the tests they employ and to establish their own performance standards.”


The report goes on to say there is a strong negative correlation between the proportions of students meeting the states’ proficiency standards and the NAEP score equivalents to those standards, suggesting that the observed heterogeneity in states’ reported percents proficient can be largely attributed to differences in the stringency of their standards. “There is, at best, a weak relationship between the NAEP score equivalents for the state proficiency standard and the states’ average scores on NAEP. Finally, most of the NAEP score equivalents fall below the cut-point corresponding to the NAEP Proficient standard, and many fall below the cut-point corresponding to the NAEP Basic standard.”


Contact John Ciani at jciani@ridgecrestca.com.