Programming Our Schools To Fail

Larry Price
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Wednesday - September 06, 2006
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To meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements, each state is required to establish time-lines and starting points for measuring the progress of students in meeting academic standards. In addition, all students must meet or exceed academic standards by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Schools are charged with setting the academic standards and determining whether schools meet “adequate yearly progress (AYP).”

Data gathered on the proportion of students who meet or exceed the standards must be aligned to these criteria: 1) major racial/ethnic categories; 2) social-economic status; 3) disability status; and 4) English language proficiency. Exceptions are made for schools and districts where the percentage of students in a subgroup perform below standards in a given year decreases by 10 percent.

Unbeknownst to the public there is much more to meeting the “adequate yearly progress” and meeting high academic standards. Before thinking about how our students will be able to meet or exceed these standards, perhaps it would be prudent to discuss the Hawaii State Assessment (HSA). This test is the measurement Hawaii public schools use to assess student progress in meeting NCLB requirements. Annual assessments, using the HSA, are conducted for students in grades 3 through 10. Reading/language arts and math assessments should have been in place by 2005-2006 school year. Science assessments should be in place in time for the 2007-2008 school year.

Looking over the data of the percentage of students who take the HSA and the SAT, it appears that students fare better on the national-standardized SAT test than on the HSA, which was developed to measure the progress of the students in Hawaii. That has to make one wonder about the merits of the HSA. On the DOE web site, one can locate sample questions used in the reading and math sections of the HSA. Here is just one example:

Grade 3-Multiple Choice Reading Question. The two words that make up the word story-telling tell you that this word means that someone: A) is reading a book to herself, B) likes books better than songs, C) is sharing something that happened with others, D) knows a lot about different places.

The above question needs to be answered by a student in the third grade who is about 8 years old! Are 8-year-old children familiar with the term “storytelling?” Furthermore, there is a range of cognitive levels possessed by students in each grade level. While accommodations should be made for a percentage of the student population who have a “disability” status, what about the percentage of students without this status, but whose cognitive levels fall below average levels? How will these students meet or exceed academic standards? The reality is that a student whose cognitive level falls within the borderline range will not be able to reach the same academic standards as a student whose cognitive potential is estimated within the average range.

Because the public school system does not have the luxury of determining which students it will educate, schools are challenged to accommodate students whose cognitive skills that fall within the wide range of the spectrum. Remember the “bell curve?” It still exists.

Newspaper accounts report that the DOE will have spent an estimated $8 million in procuring the services of outside consultants to assist schools in meeting their “adequate yearly progress.” An estimated $15 million will be spent to continue this process to ensure that more schools meet their adequate yearly progress.

Wouldn’t it be easier on the taxpayers, parents and teachers to revise the standards of the Hawaii State Assessment to reflect more appropriate items that evaluate the content standards and benchmarks that each grade level needs to attain?

Karen Knudsen, Board of Education first vice chairperson, said, “My concern is because of the way the law is written (NCLB), all the schools will eventually be programmed to fail.” She is right, because benchmarks for NCLB ratchet higher every three years through 2014, which will mean more schools will fail, requiring far more money to pay for help - money the taxpayers aren’t going to want to keep spending on a lost cause.

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