10 years of No Child Left Behind seen as impediment by many local educators

Ten years ago Sunday, the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted, mandating the use of standardized tests to assess the academic performance of K-12 students to ensure that they performed on grade level.

But local educators say the act has largely been an impediment because North Carolina and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools already had measures in place to ensure student achievement.

“Every school that’s failing has their own story,” said Diane Villwock, the district’s director of testing and program evaluation. “And the punitive measures of No Child Left Behind don’t necessarily address that.”

She said state ABC standards, which were in place before No Child Left Behind, focus on student improvement year to year rather than proficiency level and are more useful.

Villwock said the most frustrating part of the legislation has been the corrective actions taken against some Title I schools, which have a large number of students from low-income families.

Title I schools that haven’t met Adequate Yearly Progress goals for more than two years in the same subject must allow students to transfer to a higher-performing school. If they fail to meet standards the next year, they must also offer private company tutors.

During the 2010-2011 school year, 114 students of 211 students at Frank Porter Graham Elementary — the only Title I school in the district required to offer the services because of test scores — used the tutoring.

But Villwock said people within the district who are more aware of individual students and teachers’ needs could have spent the money used on private company tutoring more efficiently.

“In an ideal world, you want the classroom teacher to meet with the tutor and help them identify what the students’ strengths or weaknesses are, but that’s not how this works,” she said.

Instead, she said, tutors work independently from teachers.

Stephanie Knott, a spokeswoman for the district, said fewer families have elected to use school choice in Chapel Hill.

In 2010-2011, more than 500 students in Chapel Hill were eligible for the transfer option, but only 34 used it. Knott said the numbers have been low since the option became available in 2007.

No Child Left Behind sets levels achievement for subgroups of students by race, English proficiency and disabilities, so schools with more subgroups often have difficulty meeting standards.

Villwock said the district appreciates the effort to focus attention on the performance of students who are underserved, but Chapel Hill began separating data by race and socioeconomic factors more than a decade before the act was passed.

“If you don’t disaggregate the data, it looks like everything is fabulous. You have to make sure everyone’s sharing in success,” she said.

Jacob Vigdor, a professor at Duke University, is doing a study on how No Child Left Behind and North Carolina’s older — and, he says, more effective — accountability model affect student performance. He said the disconnect between educators and the lawmakers who wrote No Child Left Behind has become clear with time.

“This was not a piece of legislation designed by people who research education,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

He said national policy makers have a lot to learn from North Carolina, where test scores increased after the state implemented ABC standards that reward school improvement rather than punishing bad scores.

But Vigdor said No Child Left Behind has not been all bad.

“The legislation has spurred on a lot of research,” he said. North Carolina is applying for a No Child Left Behind waiver to eliminate some repercussions for not meeting standards — which Villwock said would be a good way to start a new chapter in school improvement.

“We want to pay more attention to growth,” Villwock said.

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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