Commentary: No Child Left Behind needs revision

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

As President Bush leaves office in January, he can count the federal No Child Left Behind law as one of his biggest achievements. The law has prodded school districts around the country to make sure that students in every group do well, from minorities, to those who are beginning English speakers, to those with disabilities.

Separating out the test scores for each group, as the law requires, pointed out which children were, indeed, being left behind.

Despite that, No Child Left Behind needs some major changes. Some aspects of it don't make sense and some are impractical for remote Alaska districts and, undoubtedly, other parts of rural America.

• The government judges whether a school or district is making adequate yearly progress by comparing one group of kids, say third-graders, with the next year's students in the same grade. That doesn't make sense. They are two completely different groups of students.

Instead, schools should be judged on whether each child progresses from one year to the next, which is called a "growth model." It asks, did the child's knowledge and skills grow at least one year's worth? Are children who are behind getting enough attention to help them catch up? Those are the important questions, not whether this third grade scores better than the previous year's third-grade class.

Alaska got federal permission to test the growth model, while continuing with the traditional way of assessing one class vs. another. But the feds applied too many restrictions for it to work well, says a state Department of Education official.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.