In 2001, President George W. Bush proposed the bipartisan legislation No Child Left Behind, and Congress enacted it in 2002 in an effort to make schools and teachers more accountable. Under the law, each state sets its own benchmarks, with the same ultimate goal of all students scoring at the level of "proficient" or above on math and English standardized tests by 2014.
California started out slowly, raising its benchmarks by two or three percentage points per year. But to meet the final goal, the state is now expecting students to improve by over 10 percent each year. This year, nearly 40 percent of California's schools have received the equivalent of failing grades.
Local administrators say it is basically impossible to keep up without additional funding for underperforming schools. Students in the Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District are struggling to meet benchmarks in English, and for the first time, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District may fail to reach one of its benchmarks.
"They created a bunch of rules and provided no funding," said MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves.
The difficulties are no surprise, Eshoo said, given the lack of flexibility, or any extra funding, in the law. Eshoo supported the original bill, but now says it lacks adequate federal support.
"The president never put any money in his budget," Eshoo said. "School districts were left with a mandate and no funding."
The results have been disastrous, Eshoo said. "When 30 percent of high school students fail to receive a diploma in time, our country is in trouble."
The House Committee on Education and Labor started working on the draft this year. If passed it would use a different model to assess students, improve the quality of tests and provide intervention for struggling schools — all changes local administrators and educators have backed.
Eshoo called the draft "thoughtful," but said there was no way of knowing if it would pass in its current form since it is still only a "blueprint."
Help for disabled students
As part of NCLB, a system called "Academic Yearly Progress," or AYP, ranks students as "basic," "proficient" or "advanced," partially depending on how they perform on the yearly California Standards Tests.
In 2007-08, disabled students in the elementary school district did not meet AYP targets, which expected 37 percent of students to be "proficient" in math, and 35 percent in language arts.
Eshoo said the committee is working to assures tests are "fairer," especially for students with disabilities and English language learners since both subgroups fall far behind their peers in their grade level. Under the revised law, if a student is several grade levels behind, he or she would be tested at that level.
Barry Groves said this is an important addition, especially since many local students with disabilities do not receive the early intervention they need.
"Intervention when students are younger to work on goals would be advantageous to us," Groves said. "Even though we are a high school district, we care a lot about how our students come prepared."
A future with funding?
Local politicians and administrators agree, however, that before the legislation can successfully implement any goals it needs to provide adequate funding. NCLB currently does not offer any additional resources to help schools which have fallen behind.
Eshoo said many people want to scrap the legislation altogether, but she thinks it could work with the right changes and proper funding.
"There are schools that haven't met AYP, but they are treated the same," Eshoo said. "Chronically struggling schools have to receive more assistance."
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