A good school leaves a few behind

Despite years of high scores without really trying, Oyster River Middle School is trying test prep to meet No Child Left Behind targets, writes Michael Winerip in the New York Times. The school in a prosperous New Hampshire town “needs improvement” because some special ed students aren’t proficient on the state exam, he writes.

In September the school announced a new motto, “Fill the Box.” Students have been told that their best chance for a high score on the state English test is to use all the blank space allotted for the essay. “You have to write as much as you can,” says Jay Richard, the principal. “People have studied these things.”

Actually, writing well works too.

The school also makes sure students get a good night’s sleep and eat “brain food” before the state tests.

In hopes of raising reading scores, Principal Richard, a former special education teacher, has decided to pull special ed students from mainstream classes at times for individual instruction.

Will this be better or just different?

“I believe we can do better,” Mr. Richard said. “We have to. This is the law.”

OK, the principal thinks it’s better. Surely, that’s a good thing.

Under Arne Duncan’s waivers, schools wouldn’t need to focus as much on low-achieving subgroups, Winerip writes. Isn’t that a bad thing? Apparently not.

Winerip’s story shows why No Child Left Behind was necessary, responds Eduwonk. It’s easy to ignore special ed students (the school’s low-income students may be lagging too),  if nobody’s looking.  “What about the poor students or special education students there? Don’t they matter?”


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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Winerip’s story shows why No Child Left Behind was necessary, responds Eduwonk. It’s easy to ignore special ed students (the school’s low-income students may be lagging too), if nobody’s looking. “What about the poor students or special education students there? Don’t they matter?”

    No. No they don’t. Not if you’re looking for high aggregate scores in a school without making changes and expensive commitments.

    Which is the reason for the law under the hated Bush. Bastard. He didn’t want the ‘crats to do the pub ed version of a commander sending his bottom ten percent on light duty before the unit’s physical conditioning test. What can you say about a guy like that?

    • What term would I use to describe a guy who thinks that you can solve the problems of the nations schools through standardized testing and arbitrary thresholds? If I’m feeling charitable, “Well-meaning”; if not, “incompetent”. Call it a noble experiment if you will, NCLB looks like another failure in a long history of well-intentioned failures.

      If you look at funding, you will find that special ed is anything but neglected. How much more would you pour into the bottom ten percent, and what would you expect the impact of that investment to be? Do you have any data to back you up?

  2. Do we honestly believe that 100% of students can reach grade-level proficiency?

    As mom of a special needs child, I’d like to see her make progress on HER goals, even if she remains a bit “behind”. Since she began her Early Intervention preschool last June, her language skills have gone from the equivalent of a 9 month old (at 28 mos) to the equivalent of a 24 month old at 34 months.

    Would I like to see her catch up to her chronological peers? Absolutely! Does the fact that her preschool hasn’t yet gotten her there mean that they are somehow failing her? No way!

  3. That’s why I don’t trust SAT or ACT averages for schools. They had my son take the ACT when there was really no reason to do so. His skills end where the ACT begins. But his scores, and other special ed kids, were included. So, keep in mind that big special ed populations in big schools might be dragging that score down.

    He has an IEP that says what his goals are and where he is at the present time, and he isn’t at the ACT level. His teachers didn’t fail him either. They’re doing a great job, but there is no way he will ever be at grade level. Their job, and mine, is to get him as far along academically as humanly possible so that he might be able to take care of himself with as little assistance as possible .

    I would have rather he take the EXPLORE test again (the 8th grade test) to see if his years in high school had moved him through those skills–skills that were actually specifically listed on his IEP.

    But that would have made too much sense.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    The issue of NCLB was not special needs kids except, possibly, in the broadest sense.
    It was a matter of kids who were not prepared to learn, who had poor home situations, or were on the lower end of the non-speced spectrum. I understand you can get a spec ed designation just by doing the paperwork and the stories of perfectly able kids getting advantages on, say, the ACT or SAT by claiming disadvantages of one kind or another are infuriating.
    However, by averaging the scores of the really bright kids and the sort of bright kids with the lower end, the school could look reasonably good while ignoring the extra work necessary to help the kids at the lower end of the non speced spectrum.
    Said it before; at a PD class shortly before retiring, my wife heard of the term “Intentional Non Learner”, which seemed to have been capitalized and made all official and whatnot. So if a kid is designated an Intentional Non Learner, perhaps the next step will be to take his (non) scores out of the average.
    Help is at hand.
    We know all this.