Needs improvement

More than one in four schools nationwide need to improve to satisfy the No Child Left Behind Act.

The law, known as No Child Left Behind, seeks to raise achievement by meting out sanctions to schools that fail to reach achievement targets on standardized tests. It has succeeded in focusing educators’ energies on closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and others, said the study, by the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan group.

But requirements that many educators consider unworkable are stirring resentment and could undermine commitment to the law’s goals, the study said. Among the most disputed passages are those that penalize schools whose disabled students or non-English-speaking students fail to score as highly as other students, the study found.

Actually, subgroups just have to show progress toward eventual proficiency.

One unnamed official cited in the study ridiculed the law’s tendency to label thousands of public schools as “needing improvement,” a legal euphemism for failing.

Well, maybe “needing improvement” means that some schools need to improve so that all children make progress — not just the students who are easy to educate.

While few students in needs-improvement schools are using the law’s transfer provisions, about half are receiving extra tutoring.

Update: To my surprise, the New York Times ran an excellent editorial Tuesday on No Child Left Behind, focusing on the need to include most children in special education programs.

About Joanne


  1. “One unnamed official cited in the study ridiculed the law’s tendency to label thousands of public schools as ‘needing improvement,’ a legal euphemism for failing.”

    But does he ridicule such euphemisms as “developing reader” for illiterate?

  2. All I have to say to the Soccer Mom’s whine…It’s for the Children…We need more money for Educations….blah,blah,blah….

    You asked for it, now you got it.

  3. Opps that’s education not educations.

  4. I have heard this reply from teachers regarding no child left behind, The Schools have to focus on the exams, therefore cannot teach what they want. Is there any truth to this?

  5. Sam,
    The tests are supposed to represent the knowledge the students should have to pass on to the next skill, class or grade. The teachers then would be teaching material contained on the test or “teaching to the test”. That’s what most tests do.

    As part of her normal work my wife(Jr. High Teacher) teaches a skill and then tests it at the end of the week. Those that don’t catch on will need more help and hopefully they will pass. My wife’s only issue is forcing special ed. students (I mean the real special ed. students, mentally retarded, downs, etc…) into the standardized testing world.

    Are the tests evaluating what should be taught? That’s a question I can’t answer.

  6. Each state decides what tests to use. Some tests are better than others or a better fit to state standards.

    Some special ed students can be exempted from testing, but not very many. They’re working on a fix for severely disabled students who just can’t meet the standards. The trick is not to exempt the “learning disabled” students, most of whom can meet the standards if properly taught.

  7. Joanne: Wouldn’t you also advocate fixing the provisions that if a certain number of a sub-group do not take the test then that school is penalized? (Meaning, either the school doesn’t have that # in a certain pop., or not enough were present on test day.)

    What about the provision that ALL various sub-groups must show improvement for a school to be considered “OK”? As I mentioned in another post weeks ago, my school showed improvement in 36 of 37 sub-groups. Yet, based on how NCLB is set up, we’re “Under Review.” Don’t know about you, but 36 of 37 sounds pretty damn good.

  8. Are there any good articles on “no child left behind” the positives and negatives.?

  9. One of the ways schools boost test scores is to discourage low-scoring students from taking the test — sometimes by getting them to take the day off or to get a parental waiver. It’s essential to have most students take the test. If the subgroup isn’t large enough to be statistically significant, it doesn’t count.

    There’s a lot written about NCLB, but I’m not sure what’s easiest to understand. You might try Education Gadfly or Education Week, if they’ll let you register.

  10. From what I understand, Joanne, urging kids in a group to “take the day off” won’t work. That would count as a “negative” since, you [may] have enough of that group to be “significant,” but not enough took the test.

  11. Dave,

    A similar test-score scenario happened in my district. A neighboring school, comprised mostly of Asian (Hmong,Laotian), Latino, and African American kids, achieved growth in each of those (ethnic) subgroups. The Asian kids’ test scores went up by 25, the Latino kids by 23, and the African American kids by 5. But because the *target* growth goal was a 6 for the African American kids, the school was labeled underperforming. Here’s what happened next:

    1. Morale sank.
    2. A flurry of specialists, trainers, and state visitors came to regularly observe teachers and report their findings.
    3. An increase in after-school and evening meetings targeted at promoting high test scores.
    4. Reductive, skill-based instruction.
    5. 30+ % of the teachers transfered out of the school. Our school got two of their best.

    Remember: The growth of the Asian and Latino kids scores meant nothing. The school was labeled “underperforming” because of ONE point in one subgroup.


    It may be too late to save public education already. Private education may be the only hope.

    Here is how no child left behind plays out in Upstate New York.

    My brother’s middle school is getting more diverse. The state will penalize this school if the test gap between the diversity students and the white students does not narrow. Raising the test scores of both groups will not be enuf. They must narrow the gap.

    Try to guess the solution. Here is a hint. Kurt Vonnegut had a reference to a mythical society in which a dictator decided to conqueror all odors. After years of work, there were still odors. So, the dictator had everyone’s nose cut off.

    Now, back to our real society. To narrow the gap, the school will propose, and the state will likely accept, exempting the top classes in each grade from the assessement tests. Since the top classes are largely white, this will decrease the white average, and decrease the gap. Problem solved, at least for one year.

    So, if you see worrisome reports that the white average is dropping, it may not be as bad as you think.

    Now, why don’t the people simply revolt?


  13. Dave, statistical significance of a subgroup is based on enrollment. If there are enough kids to count as a subgroup, then a minimum percentage must take the test or the school is out of compliance. In other tests, researchers have discovered that suspiciously high percentages of low-scoring students never take the test. So it’s become standard to require minimum participation.

    The reason that all subgroups must make “adequate yearly progress” — they don’t have to narrow the achievement gap with classmates — is to prevent hard-to-educate kids from being “left behind.” It forces attention to the weakest students. In doing so, it may hurt successful students, who get less of scarce resources and attention. That’s the way NCLB is designed to operate.

  14. In analyzing the sub-group scores, do they calculate the statistical significance, or use any other measure of the random variations to be expected?

    I can see them trying to do such testing on what would have been my son’s high-school graduating class, if I hadn’t transferred him to a better school.

    Blacks: 1 person. And he’s headed towards medical school, great!

    Asian: 1, and at the top of the class.

    Hispanic: 0

    White: 20, down from about 30 in middle school, and scoring just like you’d expect when several of the best students had bailed out…

    French-Canadian: wait a minute, that’s not one of the federal categories – although they were here in northern Michigan first, and there must be a lot of their descendants around. Nope, got to figure out whether they are “white” or “native american”…

  15. I forgot:

    Asian: 1 (well, half Okinawan and half Italian), and near the top of the class. But he’s been at the top of the class since 1st grade. Has there been a lack of improvement in this subgroup?

  16. SPED is enormously expensive to run. I don’t see it expanding in the current economic landscape.