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NCLB Program Should Take Its Cue from Dallas Schools
Failure to educate our country’s most disadvantaged students is the most glaring and abiding social and moral problem of the United States. For nearly 20 years, our nation has worked to improve our schools and student achievement levels. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was to be the answer to this dilemma by holding all schools accountable for student performance using high-stakes testing. The error in thinking is the belief that the NCLB test ratings are fair and accurate. The system does not factor out the disadvantages and/or advantages of wealth and demographics, creating an inequity in the rating of schools. Low-income schools must provide programs, such as preschool, tutoring, remedial classes, and bilingual services, to their students, as well as the cost of more administration required by the state and federal grants that make up the largest percentage of their budget.
Wealthier schools that primarily depend upon local funding (generally from property taxes) for their budget have few government constraints, few low-income students requiring special programs, and flexibility in how their budget is used. This means wealthier schools can provide more educational opportunities and enhancements (i. access to technology, fine arts and music, extracurricular activities, teacher professional training and improvements, and teacher administrative support) that impoverished schools cannot afford. The Dallas Schools have developed their own rating system that factors out these disadvantages/advantages, putting all Dallas schools on an even playing field.
Available funding, government requirements, the educational level of students entering kindergarten, and the demographics of the community are all factored out of the Dallas schools test rating metric. Under NCLB, all schools across the nation must test children in reading and mathematics annually between third and eighth grades. The state, using NCLB mandated measures for school performance, calculates the percentage of various student populations that annually meet or exceed the state’s academic standards. Otherwise, they must measure the progress of student “groups” towards a universal fixed point. Dallas schools use a “value added” school rating system that provides more accurate information, measuring individual student progress from a relative starting point. They then compare the scores with the same student’s scores from the previous year. Dallas schools score higher if students on average score higher than predicted by the previous year’s test scores and if the schools’ overall performance is better than that of other Dallas schools within the same demographics. If Dallas schools perform lower than predicted, they earn a low rating. Herbert Marcus Elementary, part of the Dallas schools system, is the ideal candidate for the NCLB program. It is located in the inner city of Dallas, the building and grounds are run down, classes are overcrowded, and it is positioned on the edge of a grimy industrial zone.
With 1,140 students, almost all are from low-income families and two-thirds speak English as a second language. Even the parents average a seventh-grade education. Under Principal Conce Rodriguez, the school has done everything right in recent years — students wear uniforms, teachers submit weekly progress reports on every student in every subject, an expanded preschool program, teacher attendance incentives, and a large tutoring project, just to name a few. A community liaison, hired by Rodriguez, has increased the PTA membership to 700 (the largest in Dallas schools) and typically 50 parent volunteers daily at the school. Student attendance is at 97 percent, one of the highest in the Dallas schools system. Under the Dallas schools rating system, Marcus placed 19th out of 206 Dallas schools, a significant accomplishment with such difficult demographics. Under the NCLB mandated rating system, Marcus placed 76th as only “acceptable”, one step away from being rated as failing. Needless to say, the Marcus educators, students and parents are none too pleased with the NCLB rating system. Some teachers have left Marcus from sheer frustration with the NCLB system and gone to wealthier Dallas schools, where they believe their accomplishments will meet with some recognition. A terrible loss to Marcus or any impoverished school, where quality teachers are scarce.
Other Dallas schools are being similarly penalized by the NCLB rating system. Dallas schools that ranked 2nd, 5th, 8th and 16th under the Dallas schools rating system were ranked 94th, 77th, 83rd and 107th, respectively, under NCLB. Additionally, the school that placed third under the NCLB rating system in the Dallas schools ranked 25th under the Dallas schools rating system. This shows the inequity of the NCLB rating system. Since shortly after its passage, the NCLB has been under heavy attack by Congressional democrats, Texas republican legislators, and teacher unions. Though Dallas schools educators and parents support the high-stakes testing, they see the unfairness of the rating system used. They wish to see NCLB take a cue from the playbook of Dallas schools to accurately measure improvement in student achievement and factor out the demographics.
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