Mountain View Voice

News - February 12, 2010

Educators applaud proposed changes to NCLB

by Dana Sherne

President Barack Obama's decision to revamp the No Child Left Behind Act has been met with praise from Mountain View educators, as they await further specifics on his plan.

When Obama announced this year's budget on Feb. 1, it included increased funding for education and a plan to reform the 2002 law. Most notably, the reforms would eliminate aspects of the controversial "Program Improvement" designation, a label given to schools and districts failing to meet ever-increasing test score standards.

Rather than measuring schools and students in absolute "pass-fail" terms, Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan propose measuring them according to their growth. Such a change would be welcomed by both the general public and the education community, according to Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District.

"In some ways, it was more punitive than helpful," he said of the current system. "I think the new No Child Left Behind will look at ways to be supportive of districts that want to make improvements and schools that want to make improvements, rather than punishing people for not meeting arbitrarily set assessment standards."

Under the current system, schools and districts receiving Title I funds — federal funds for schools with a high proportion of low-income students — get the "Program Improvement" label if they do not progress quickly enough. Ultimately, schools failing to catch up could lose federal funding. But educators say the standards are set so high that no district can avoid PI status forever.

"What's the point if every district in the state is going to become Program Improvement?" asked Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District. "So it needs to be revised. We're just hoping it will happen soon."

In 2009, Mountain View Whisman was for the first time labeled Program Improvement. Yet every school except Huff Elementary — already the highest performing in the district — saw improvements in their test scores. Still, Monta Loma and Theuerkauf did meet the rising proficiency requirements, and are now designated PI schools.

Reforms might allow for a more nuanced approach to measuring a school's success. Districts could be rewarded for improving their schools and helping students grow, even if they do not reach a certain level of proficiency by a certain time.

Lairon said Monta Loma and Theuerkauf are making significant progress, and believes that were NCLB more focused on growth, those schools would be lauded for their successes rather than slapped with a negative label.

The law's current 2014 deadline for meeting 100 percent proficiency in reading and math may remain intact even after the reforms. But the focus may be taken off of statewide standardized testing and onto some other measure to determine if students are "college and career ready."

Another aspect of the proposed reforms could link teacher evaluation to student performance. MVLA already does this, according to Groves, but Lairon said Mountain View Whisman does not.

However, she said, the district likely will change its evaluation system regardless of No Child Left Behind in order to comply with new state legislation to make Mountain View Whisman eligible for Race to the Top, a $4 billion federal grant program.

Before deciding on other changes to district policy, Lairon said, administrators will need to hear more specifics on the proposed reforms.

"They have these sort of grand concepts, and we need to see what they really look like in black and white," she said.

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