Mehlville board OKs resolution declaring No Child Left Behind standards unfair

NCLB eventually ‘impossible’ to attain, superintendent says

By BURKE WASSON

While Mehlville School District officials still are striving to meet the student-performance requirements of No Child Left Behind, school-board members last week officially declared they believe those standards to be unfair.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Sept. 18 to adopt a resolution supporting federal legislation that would temporarily release school districts from No Child Left Behind’s original standards.

The No Child Left Behind Recess Until Reauthorization Act would suspend those standards for one year or until Congress reauthorizes the law.

The bill was introduced in a bipartisan effort on June 11 by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.

U.S. Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 in an effort to raise state-testing standards set for schools districts to receive federal funding. The measure also made school districts eligible to receive federal funding based on its percentage of low-income students enrolled. These levels increase every year, making it more difficult for schools to meet the standards.

Because state-testing standards through Adequate Yearly Progress, AYP, in communications arts and math increase each year and each subgroup of students must meet those escalating standards, Mehlville officials have said it is becoming “impossible” to attain them. To receive full federal funding, Mehlville must meet standards in each of eight subgroups, which include white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, free/reduced lunch, individualized education program, limited English proficiency and school total.

To reach No Child Left Behind’s goal of 100-percent student proficiency by 2014, schools must meet an annually increasing performance target in communications arts and math. The district in 2007 met those standards in five of the eight student subgroups.

If one subgroup does not reach the standard, the district does not meet standards and qualifies for needs-improvement status from the federal government. Superintendent Terry Noble believes this is where much of the problem lies with the increasing standards behind No Child Left Behind.

“We know there are some outstanding schools that are failing,” Noble said. “According to that standard, they’re failing.

“That’s where disrespect comes in. When you see what we already know are high-performing schools and they end up on the list, where does the logic come into that?”

As a whole, Mehlville students are performing well above the state standard in mathematics with 65.7 percent performing at the proficient or advanced level. In communication arts, 59.7 percent were proficient or advanced. The performance targets for this year were 51 percent of students proficient or advanced in communication arts and 45 percent of students proficient or advanced in mathematics.

While some national civil-rights groups have criticized the Recess Until Reauthorization Act as it would stop increasing standards, Noble believes No Child Left Behind essentially punishes districts with more diversity than others as each subgroup presents “more opportunities to fail.”

And with Missouri Assessment Program testing standards increasing each year, Noble maintains that No Child Left Behind will eventually be “impossible” to follow.

“It’s a statistical impossibility for everybody to be above average,” Noble said. “And that’s really what that law is saying. The part about it that is correct is we want to focus our attention on the causes for some students failing and address those on an individual basis. That’s what’s good about the law. What’s bad about it is that no matter how hard you work, they’ve set a standard that can’t be reached. It’s not possible. Everyone can’t be above average.

“Whenever you set unreasonable expectations or standards and it can’t be achieved, it breeds disrespect for the law. And the result is people tend to ignore it.”

At the same time, Noble insists that Mehlville officials will work to attain any current standards, even if they believe those requirements are not fair.

“People who represent public schools have lobbied to try to get some revisions to the law that they think are more and more common sense in a lot of ways,” he said. “We still want accountability. We’re not against accountability. We want it to be reasonable and include requirements that are attainable, too.”

As some congressmen are calling for a restructuring of the standards now in place, Noble said U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, has voiced Mehlville’s concerns in Congress.

“He’s carried our message to Washington, D.C., a few times,” Noble said. “We’ve had phone conferences with some of the folks in Washington, D.C. … He conducted a video conference once with members of that committee.”

For now, officials can only attempt to reach those standards, which the board’s resolution states are ultimately unfair.

The language of that resolution approved 7-0 on Sept. 18 states:

“Whereas, the Mehlville Board of Education values public education and is genuinely committed to providing a quality education for children; and

“Whereas, the Mehlville Board of Education recognizes the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law ultimately hampers — not helps — quality schools; and

“Whereas, the Mehlville Board of Education embraces accountability when the measuring stick for student achievement encourages overall growth for all children; and

“Whereas, the Mehlville Board of Education supports HR 6239, the NCLB Recess Until Reauthorization Act, in that it still requires accountability — yet it also provides temporary, limited relief to NCLB’s arbitrary penalties in order to allow districts to further implement programmatic changes; and

“Whereas, the Mehlville Board of Education believes the need for legislation such as HR 6239 exemplifies the importance for the U.S. Congress to enact meaningful reform to NCLB in an expeditious manner; and

“Now therefore, be it resolved, the Mehlville Board of Education, as named below, join in support for Congressman Sam Graves’ HR 6239, NCLB Recess Until Reauthorization legislation, and call on the U.S. Congress to pass such legislation and to work on reauthorizing the expired NCLB law with reforms that make a positive difference in student achievement for all children.”