Missouri educators optimistic about No Child Left Behind Act changes

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 | 8:05 p.m. CST; updated 10:02 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 2, 2010

COLUMBIA — Different factors would determine school achievement standards if President Barack Obama’s proposed rewrite to the No Child Left Behind Act is passed by Congress later this year. Educators are tentatively optimistic about the possible changes.

The current No Child Left Behind Act evaluates a school’s success by adequate yearly progress reports based on standardized tests scores in the hopes that 100 percent of students will achieve grade-level proficiency by 2014. Jack Jensen, Columbia Public Schools assistant superintendent of elementary education, calls this plan “unrealistic.”

“We’re not trying to back away from an obtainable goal,” said Jensen, who thinks that each student's individual progress should be a central factor in determining a school’s success.

Obama’s proposed changes, reported by the New York Times on Monday, will have to be passed by Congress. He wants to acknowledge achieving schools, allot money to districts with successful achievement plans and suggested the 2014 proficiency plan could also be eliminated.

According to the White House Web site, the government already allocates money for states that change their education laws that cultivate certain achievement standards. It does this through the federal program Race to the Top, which will award $4.35 billion for a competition among states with education standards that:

·      Design and implement rigorous standards and high quality assessments that build toward college and career readiness.

·      Revise teacher evaluation, compensation and retention policies to encourage and reward effectiveness.

·      Prioritize and transform persistently low-performing schools.

·      Close achievement gaps.

·     Introduce merit pay, which evaluates teachers based on student test scores.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has submitted a Race to the Top proposal on Jan. 19, said Chris Guinther, Missouri National Education Association President. The competition winners will be announced in April.

Jensen feels that Columbia Public Schools could benefit from such a system.

“We think the things we are doing would be positively reflected in that model,” Jensen said.

Columbia Public Schools discusses how to increase achievement at the beginning of every school year, said Jensen. Administrators evaluate multiple factors such as parental involvement, safety, discipline referrals and student management. They set goals for literacy and math. They measure progress by looking at trend lines.

“Through school improvement plans the vast majority of schools have shown improvements,” Jensen said.

Jensen said the administration works to align resources to help schools reach goals that do not just include improved the Missouri Assessment Program's test scores, which is currently used by the act to determine adequate yearly progress results.

Guinther, who called No Children Left Behind a “punitive” plan, is relieved that test scores will no longer be the sole factor the federal government uses to determine a school’s achievement. However, she is concerned about one aspect of Obama’s plan.

“We absolutely want to be accountable, but we are concerned that this means linking teacher pay and performance,” Guinther said.

Guinther said other factors, such as graduation rates, personal progress and school resources should be taken into account when measuring a teacher’s performance. Jensen shares Guinther’s concerns about merit pay.

“It would be difficult to make that a fair process,” said Jensen, who believes there are too many complex factors that play into a learning environment that are out of a teacher’s control.

For the new proposal to be most effective, local school administrators need to be involved planning courses of action. In the past, the local or state government made this decision or was determined by a few school administrators, Guinther said.

Guinther fears that Obama’s proposal will encourage competitiveness among school systems and deter districts from collaborating to raise achievement rates.

Jensen does not think educators would choose competitiveness over collaboration.

“When you are talking to educators, they all agree on one thing and that is the achievement of children,” Jensen said.

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