WASHINGTON – The No Child Left Behind Act is “overly prescriptive and rigid” and local schools — and their students — cannot meet its uniform requirements, a national lawmakers’ group charged Wednesday.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said state and local school systems need more say in determining whether students are performing adequately and whether teachers are qualified under the act.
“State and local governments have been in the business of education forever,” said Maryland Delegate John Hurson, D-Montgomery, who is also the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A task force appointed by the conference said Congress should relax areas of the law, letting states use means other than standardized testing to evaluate students and easing qualifications for teachers who teach multiple subjects, for example.
The Maryland Department of Education recently asked its federal counterpart for minor changes in No Child Left Behind — but the state “feels pretty good about the accountability system as a whole,” said Maryland Assistant Superintendent Ron Peiffer.
He said the U.S. Department of Education has been largely receptive to suggested changes to No Child Left Behind, a statement echoed by the NCSL task force members.
In their letter to the federal department, Maryland officials have asked for changes in the way special-education students’ test scores are factored into a school’s overall performance evaluation.
Peiffer said that half of the schools in Maryland that did not meet the adequately yearly progress standards called for in the federal act failed to do so because test scores of special education students were calculated with all students’ scores.
“Special education for us continues for us to be an issue we want them to be aware of,” Peiffer said. He noted that 13.9 percent of Maryland public school students receive some sort of special education services.
The state wants students who receive special services — whether they are non-English speakers, free-lunch students, special-education students, or a combination of those groups — to only be counted one time when school test scores are being computed. Students in more than one of those categories currently have their scores counted more than once in their school, he said.
Maryland also asked the U.S. Education Department to change the way the state determines if a school system is in need of improvement. Maryland wants a system to be labeled “in need of improvement” only if its elementary, middle and high schools get failing grades. Under the current rules, a school system may be found in need of improvement is just one of those grade levels fails.
But tinkering with the rules is not the only thing that local officials need: States do not have enough money to meet all the requirements of the law, said Delegate Nancy King, D-Montgomery, a member NCSL’s No Child Left Behind Task Force.
Another problem is the complexity of the law. Maryland State Teachers Association President Pat Foerster said that because of its many requirements, the law is difficult for teachers to meet “when you get down on the ground trying to implement it.”
But King and other members of the task force are confident that Congress will be open to their recommendations.
“We are anxious to see results after they get the report,” she said.
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