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Dorn: No Child Left Behind Is Unfair, Needs Changes

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Published on Tue, Aug 18, 2009
Read More Schools & Education

OLYMPIA — State Superintendent Randy Dorn called for more fairness and changes in the federal accountability system known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in a news conference today. Nearly double the state’s schools from last year were listed in the federal program as needing improvement despite state testing scores remaining virtually the same as 2008.

As expected, results were mixed from the spring 2009 administration of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). Scores in grades 3-8 and 10 mirrored 2008 results, increasing in seven subject areas, decreasing in seven and remaining unchanged in six.

Yet, preliminary results from AYP, the accountability arm of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, show that 1,073 schools moved into improvement status, up from 618 last year.
“Our state testing scores are flat, yet the federal system shows an additional 500 schools are failing,” Dorn said. “What is failing is No Child Left Behind. The law is completely unfair. While we know there is certainly room for improvement in our schools, it’s a statistical guarantee in this law that all of our schools will soon be in federal improvement status. That’s unrealistic.”
AYP Results Calculated from State Testing Results
In spring 2009, more than 500,000 Washington students in grades 3-8 and 10 took the WASL. Those scores are used to measure progress on AYP.

Although results were mixed in the seven grades tested, Dorn was particularly impressed with the significant gain the state has made in writing during the past 10 years, when 10th graders were first tested in the subject.
When the state first tested writing in 1999, just 41 percent of all 10th graders passed. This year, 86 percent of all 10th graders passed.

“This is certainly one area where the education community should be applauded,” Dorn said.  “That’s true education reform working. We targeted writing, and aligned our curriculum, standards and professional development.

“That’s the focus we need on math and science because if we continue on our current path we’ll have 40 percent of our students not graduating in 2013 (when it’s required for students to pass a state math assessment).”
Some of the statewide results over the seven tested grades were encouraging as sixth-grade reading scores increased by 3.4 percent and eighth-grade science scores increased by 3.2 percent. At the same time, seventh-grade reading scores decreased by 3.5 percent and 10th grade math scores decreased by 4.1 percent. See chart below.

For the class of 2010, 86.5 percent of incoming 12th graders (those who have remained in school and are on track to graduate) have passed the reading and writing exams. Nearly 60 percent of the class passed the math WASL. However, those students who do not pass a state math assessment can meet the graduation requirement by earning two credits of math after 10th grade. The state does not track credits earned.
Nearly 75 percent of incoming 11th graders have met the reading and writing standards.
The assessment figures for those two classes are comparable to the classes of 2008 and 2009, the first two required to meet the reading and writing assessment graduation requirements.
For complete state testing results, visit the State Report Card.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Results
In 2009, 1,285 schools did not make AYP. Of that total, 1,073 are in one of five steps of improvement. For districts, 209 did not make AYP and 103 are in one of two steps of improvement. Of the 505 schools in Step 1 of improvement this year, 274 missed AYP in math and 243 missed in only one category.

By contrast, 1,268 schools (and 209 districts) did not make AYP and 618 schools (and 57 districts) were in improvement in 2008.

“The positive aspect of No Child Left Behind is that it focused attention on public education and achievement,” Dorn said. “What is wrong with the law is that it is punitive and statistically impossible to succeed. We have high standards, and under NCLB you get penalized for that.”

The term AYP comes from the federal requirement that all schools and districts will have a specific – and growing – percentage of students passing the state’s reading and math tests each year. All states are required to have a goal that all students in all schools pass the reading and math tests by 2014. Schools and districts that do not meet AYP goals for two consecutive years move into “improvement” status and, if they receive federal Title I funds, face an escalating series of consequences each year they do not make AYP. (See “What is AYP?” for more details.)

Changes to State Testing in 2009-10 School Year
The 2008-09 school year was the last for the WASL. Beginning this school year, the WASL will be replaced by two new tests: the grades 3-8 Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) and the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE).

“Although we’ve seen huge gains since we began testing in the late 1990s, in the past few years we’re seeing a plateau,” Dorn said. “That’s one of the reasons why we need an improved assessment.”
Despite the change in tests, the graduation requirements associated with high school state testing remain the same. Also, schools can volunteer to participate in online testing next spring in grades 6-8 in reading and math.
Dorn said he believes another reason why testing scores have leveled off is because of testing fatigue. Reading, math and science will now just take one day to administer instead of two, cutting the time in half.

“It just got too big and too long,” Dorn said of the state assessment system. “We have replaced the WASL to make state testing become more responsive, less time consuming and tied to technology. I’m confident students, teachers and the public will see these changes as a positive.”

Next spring, about 25 percent of students statewide in grades 6-8 are expected to participate in voluntary online testing. In spring 2011, fifth graders will participate in online testing in reading, math and science. Eighth graders will also begin to test in science that year. By spring 2012, fourth graders will move to online testing in reading and math.

Writing will debut online in spring 2011 in grades seven and 10, with an online practice test beginning in fall 2010. OSPI is conducting feasibility studies for online testing in fourth grade writing and all subjects in third grade.
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