In theory, the No Child Left Behind Act--a federal set of academic standards that public schools are measured on--is well intentioned. Unfortunately, those good intentions pave a road to educational hell for many school officials and educators.
The standardized testing at the heart of the federal No Child Left Behind law has served as a virtual report card on local schools, and if Illinois schools were assigned a letter grade on those tests, most would be getting Fs. About 80 percent of Illinois schools fail to meet standards under NCLB.
Then there are the cases of and . Both districts did not meet their overall Adequate Yearly Progress goals as outlined by NCLB because of a deficiency in one area: the reading achievement of students with disabilities. The schools in both districts met their AYP requirements in all other areas.
In February, the Illinois State Board of Education plans to seek a waiver from some of the law’s provisions now that the president has authorized states to seek exemptions if they commit to reform efforts.
Specifically, the state wants an exemption from the requirement that all students must pass standardized reading and math tests by 2014.
In October, the state released standardized test data. Illinois Statehouse News reported on the results:
This past year, students in third through eighth grades, overall, scored below the 85 percent benchmark, except for the following student groups who scored at or above the mark:
- 85 percent of eighth-graders in reading;
- 86 percent of eighth-graders in math;
- 87 percent of fourth-graders in math.
Compare that with 92.1 percent of D161 students and 92.4 percent of D157-C students scoring, overall, at the acceptable levels. In fact, 100 percent of 's third- and fourth-graders in D161 scored at the meets and exceeds levels on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Yet the bottom line for both districts is that they did not meet the federal standards.
This begs the question: Is that fair? Yes, standards and guidelines need to be followed, but in cases like this, the spirit of the law needs to trump the letter of the law. These districts are doing exactly what NCLB intended: producing academically successful students. They need to be praised, not punished.
Does No Child Left Behind need to be re-evaluated? Are there better ways to evaluate students and still hold them to high academic standards? Tell us what you think in the comments section.
Editor's note: Regional editor Dennis Robaugh contributed to this report.