Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Eyes No Child Compromise; It Hopes a New Program Will Let Less-Troubled Schools Relax a Bit

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Eyes No Child Compromise; It Hopes a New Program Will Let Less-Troubled Schools Relax a Bit

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - When a Glynn County school fell short of annual goals in just one category for a couple of years, it was labeled a problem school even though it excelled in other areas.

Now Georgia education officials are hoping to win a spot in a pilot program that would allow the state to treat less harshly than others some school districts that fall short of federal standards.

The State Department of Education has asked to be one of 10 states included in the new program, seen as a response to growing congressional resistance to renewing the landmark No Child Left Behind Act. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings unveiled the proposal in March.

Supporters say "differentiated accountability" will fix a glaring flaw in the education reform measure, one of the signature initiatives of President Bush's first term. And they say it can be done without weakening the bill's insistence that all students receive a quality education by 2014.

"I appreciate President Bush and Secretary Spellings listening to the concerns of state and school leaders and allowing adjustments that will make No Child Left Behind a fairer law without backing away from the core [principles] of accountability and parental engagement," Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in a statement issued by her office after Spellings' announcement.

But some critics of No Child Left Behind say the new measures are nothing more than window-dressing meant to help pave the way for Congress to reauthorize the controversial federal law.

"They are a small patch on a very serious problem," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Massachusetts-based organization nicknamed FairTest that is critical of the education act.

A FLAW IN THE SYSTEM?

Under No Child Left Behind, each public school and school district in the nation is graded according to a set of standards, including test results and graduation rates.

How well students are doing isn't the only measure of whether the school or district is meeting the federal standard, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. There also has to be a set level of improvement toward all students getting a quality education by 2014.

The overall scores don't tell the whole story. Schools and districts have to make progress in different racial and socioeconomic groups as well as among disabled students.

If a school falls short on just one of several categories, which vary from school to school based on its demographics, that school doesn't meet AYP. Two years of failing to meet AYP means the school is labeled "needs improvement" and begins to get hit with both sanctions and extra help. Schools that stay on the needs-improvement list can eventually be forced to restructure. …

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