No Child Left Behind Under Legal Battle

Educators across the country - including those in high achieving public school districts such as La Cañada Unified - are keeping an eye on developments since the state of Connecticut joined a long line of states to voice their disagreement with areas of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act.

"Everyone who is an educator has concern about NCLB," said La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Jim Stratton.

NCLB is a law that requires schools to test students and show appropriate improvement throughout districts. Many states do not have a disagreement with the idea of the law itself, but with the "one size fits all" method of testing and evaluating it mandates.

Connecticut went further with their concerns than most states by filing a lawsuit on Aug. 22 against the federal government. The dispute centers on testing requirements under NCLB. Connecticut students have been tested in grades four, six, eight and 10 for 20 years. State officials contend their accountability program is working. NCLB requires them to test grades three, five, and seven. According to a cost analysis, the state of Connecticut found that by 2008 an additional $41.6 million will be required to implement these new tests.

California State Superintendent Jack O'Connell's office is watching the Connecticut action. "We are still looking at the lawsuit," said Hilary McLean, spokesperson for O'Connell.

McLean said she feels the Connecticut lawsuit is on different grounds than California's concern with NCLB. "We have very high standards [in California]," said McLean. She states that NCLB requires an accountability system. "Some states had no accountability." McLean said that California has statewide testing every year. "We have a blueprint with our standards," she said.

California adopted the state standards, which unifies all schools in a method of teaching. These standards are what annual tests are based on. McLean admits the state could "dumb down" test to show higher proficency levels but that's not the way the state education system performs. "California does not back away from high standards. Here we refuse to roll back on high standards," she said.

If the method of testing is not a concern, the evaluation of "proficiency" is, with many California educators voicing concern about the strict requirements. NCLB requires that 100 percent of students, including English language learners and those in special education, be tested at "proficient" or higher by 2014. La Cañada schools have successful test scores that are some of the highest in the nation for public schools, however Stratton is still concerned about the 2014 deadline.

"It is unrealistic that 100 percent of students test at proficiency," said Stratton. "[NCLB] demands progress without funding."

NCLB has not been fully funded, however all mandated requirements are in place.

Although LCUSD does not receive funding from NCLB through Title One programs provided for lower economic areas, the district can still be affected by NCLB through a rating system. The government requires all schools submit test scores. If the proper improvements are not displayed they are titled a "non-qualified" school. Once that happens, a child may request to be bused to another school that is qualified and the district must pay the costs of transportation.

Stratton is proud of his district's high test scores. He credits the teachers, parents, and motivated students who understand the importance of the tests. But even in a high achieving district the 100 percent goal is unrealistic, he said. He does feel that NCLB will be adjusted before the 2014 deadline. "I think there will be action before 2014," said Stratton.

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