In 2001, President George W. Bush and Sen. Edward Kennedy came together to sign NCLB into law and bring major educational reform under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA was termed “No Child Left Behind.” ESEA and NCLB are terms that can be used interchangeably.
The law mandated that data be separated out by subgroups and called for all groups of students to achieve a 100 percent pass rate on the Virginia Standards of Learning assessment by the 2013-2014 school year. Virginia determined that 50 students in a subgroup constituted a group for accountability purposes. This is referred to as the “minimum number.” Punitive sanctions, such as implementing school choice and firing school staff, were applied to Title I schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress.
We saw instructional gains with NCLB. I witnessed it: teachers, administrators, students and parents working hard.
But improvement did not come quickly enough to meet the increasingly difficult Annual Measurable Objectives as we approached the 100 percent benchmark. Under NCLB, schools that did not make gains fast enough to satisfy the objectives were unfairly branded “failing schools.”
When reauthorization of the education act occurs, the term No Child Left Behind likely will be replaced.
Although the flaws of NCLB are recognized on both sides of the aisle, we have reached a political standstill.
Last year as we approached the 100 percent benchmark, no one wanted nearly 80 percent of schools in the country to be designated as failing schools. With that realization came the opportunity for states to apply for an ESEA flexibility waiver. Virginia wrote a waiver in February 2012 and was denied. Revisions were made in June, and Virginia received approval for the waiver for the 2012-2013 school year.
The premise now is that the unrealistic 100 percent benchmark has been revised and the punitive sanctions and wrongful identification of “failing schools” have dissipated.
What does the ESEA waiver mean for Virginia?
First, let’s visit the issue of increased rigor. You might know that Virginia is one of four states that did not adopt Common Core National Standards. The federal Department of Education has recognized the Virginia SOLs as equally rigorous.
The increased rigor is apparent in the standards and assessments alike. Following a toughening of the state standards, this was noted in the decrease in math scores realized throughout Virginia last spring, which influenced lower benchmarks.
A similar trend is likely to occur throughout the state in reading this year.
In Virginia, state accreditation may become more difficult to obtain than federal objectives. It will be interesting to see if NCLB is reauthorized before this
It is a time of transition in education as the country and states go about implementing significant school improvement initiatives.
We have all learned from No Child Left Behind. Will we gain information from the ESEA waivers and will these lessons influence reauthorization?
Stay tuned, as updates are fast and furious.
Karie Lane is a specialist for Culpeper County Public Schools. A version of this commentary first appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent.