Test scores do not meet standards set by No Child Left Behind
Blair failed to meet the 2003 standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in Special Education and Limited English Proficient for reading, according to the 2003 Performance Report released by the Maryland State Department of Education.
NCLB requires that each school must meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) each year. "Adequate yearly progress is the gain that schools, school systems and states must make each year in the proportion of students achieving proficiency in reading and math," according to the Maryland State Department of Education website.
Mary Kusler, a legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators, stated that the goal is to have all students proficient in math and reading by 2012 or 2013. "In the meantime, they set a bar every year," she said. A set percent of students must be considered proficient in math and reading each year for the school to make AYP until 2012 or 2013, when all students are required to be proficient.
"Schools, school systems and the state must show that students are making AYP in reading, mathematics, and one additional measure," according to the 2003 Performance Report. "In high schools, the additional measure is graduation rate." In addition, the student body is divided into eight subgroups: African American, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Limited English Proficient, Free and Reduced-Price Meals and Special Education. All students in all subgroups must be proficient in order for the school to make AYP.
Should any one group fail to make AYP, "the whole school is labeled 'in-need-of-improvement,'" Kusler said.
In response to NCLB, the Maryland State Department of Education implemented the Maryland State Assessments (MSA). The tests were first introduced in March 2003 and were administered to Blair sophomores last year.
"The biggest problem we had with test is that we don't know anything about it," said ESOL Resource teacher Joseph Bellino. According to Bellino, "only the people who were administering the test had the chance to see it," and therefore teachers were unable to give students specific strategies or preparation.
"I'm very concerned about some of these high-stake tests," added Special Education Resource teacher Lisa Davisson. "I don't think they take into consideration that different students learn differently." According to Davisson, some students are successful but are not considered proficient because they did not do well on the MSAs. "In many cases these might be students who are doing very well on alternative assessments," Davisson said.
According to Assistant Principal Richard Wilson, the reading MSA was administered to all sophomores, while the math MSA was administered to geometry students. If a student had been in ESOL for less than a year, the student's test did not count, added Bellino.
Bellino said that the fact that ESOL students are identified as a separate category is both advantageous and problematic. "It's an advantage because it allows people to know ESOL students are just as important," said Bellino. "The intent is to give them quality education they deserve. The problem is that the law intends that in ten years the ESOL students are at a proficient level." Bellino said that the expectation that 100 percent of ESOL students will be proficient in reading by 2012 or 2013 is unrealistic because although current students may be proficient by then, non-English-speaking students who arrive in the school system in ten years will not be proficient.
"We start them from the beginning but we're always expected to push them ahead," Bellino said. "At some point we're doomed to fail."
Kusler agreed, saying, "I think there are elements of [NCLB] that are absolutely unworkable."
Each state developed their own test but was required to have the federal government's approval before they could administer the test, Wilson said. The MSA is formatted with multiple-choice questions and brief constructed response questions. "It's a lot like the HSAs," Wilson stated.
Blair has placed more emphasis on writing since the administration of the MSAs because writing is a significant aspect of the test. "The most important emphasis is on literacy and math," Wilson said. However, all teachers were encouraged to help. "We're trying to get everybody to push, not just the English or the math teachers," he stated.
Signed by President Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, NCLB "redefines the federal role in K-12 education," according to the Department of Education fact sheet on NCLB. According to the fact sheet, the four major components of the law are stronger accountability for results, expanded flexibility, expanded options for parents and more emphasis on successful teaching methods.
However, both the federal and state governments are facing budget deficits, according to Wilson. "This is becoming what they call an ‘unfunded mandate'," he stated, defining an "unfunded mandate" as when the government requires schools to follow through with their expectations but does not provide schools with more funds. "There's just less money for the state to do the developments, the practice testing and the final testing," Wilson said
NCLB also stressed the importance of highly qualified teachers. According to Kusler, a "highly qualified teacher" must be certified by the state and have a bachelors degree in the subject he or she teaches. Teachers without bachelors degrees must earn one or pass a test to prove they are qualified to teach that subject, Kusler said. "They want to make sure teachers have knowledge in what they're calling their content area," she added.
Administrators are not concerned about hiring teachers, however. According to Wilson, MCPS on the whole generally hires good teachers.
"Our secret is hiring high quality teachers and putting good principals in," said Dr. Jerry Weast, Superintendent of MCPS. "A good teacher in every classroom and 90 percent of the work's done," he added.
Administrators also worked to bring in more parent involvement. According to Wilson, many parent meetings are conducted in both English and Spanish, and Bellino said that ESOL students are able to receive important documents, report cards and interims in Spanish as well.
Katherine Zhang. Katherine Zhang likes French baguettes, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, bookmarks, fresh boxes of rosin, Brad Meltzer novels, and of course, "JAG." In her free time, Katherine enjoys knitting, playing the violin, and reading - especially legal thrillers and books about people in faraway places and long-ago times. … More »