Across Kansas, students are finishing state assessments. And the No Child Left Behind requirement that all students will score proficient or higher in math and reading by 2014 is rapidly approaching.
Across the country, states chose one of two methods to meet the impossible 100-percent-by-2014 mandate. Some set a low rate of improvement and loaded the increase in scores into the last few years, hoping that the unreasonable law would be modified or repealed by now. Because of how their graph across the years looks, this is called the "hockey stick" strategy.
Kansas took an honest approach and drew the line to 100-percent-by-2014 fairly straight. Kansas has played by the rules and raised scores each year, making the increasing adequate yearly performance (AYP) goal for the state. But despite the greatest of efforts—narrowing of the curriculum to focus on math and reading, double-enrolling weak students in additional courses, adding after-school and summer programs—you can only improve scores so far.
But to approach the state requirements for NCLB this year, 86 percent of Kansas high school students and nearly 88 percent of K-8 students will have to meet proficiency standards for reading. In math, over 82 percent of high school students and nearly 87 percent of K-8 students must meet proficiency. Education Secretary Duncan estimates that over 80 percent of schools nationwide may fail to make AYP this year. The state of Kansas may be among them.
According to Kansas Education Policy Report, a new state education news service by veteran journalist Peter Hancock (www.ksedpolicy.com), Commissioner DeBacker reported to the Board of Regents on April 21 that it is possible that Kansas may fall short of meeting these ever-escalating AYP scores. With dramatically decreased school funding and the end of many programs that supported the lowest performing students, it is possible that scores could level off and even drop. School performance is closely linked to economic status. DeBacker laid out the data. Students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches grew from 28 percent to over 43 percent between 1994 and 2010. Students needing special education IEPs (Individual Education Plans) doubled from seven to 14 percent in that same period. And English Language Learners in Kansas increased from four to nine percent.
Kansas leads all states in calling for commonsense. The State Board of Education backed DeBacker’s request in February for a state waiver from NCLB in order to provide Kansas time to incorporate new Common Core standards in language arts and mathematics. Reported in the April 22 Education Week, DeBacker declared "We need flexibility as we age out of NCLB." Arkansas has also requested a moratorium on NCLB. To this date, the U.S. Department of Education has not responded.
The other hero of the day is the McPherson USD. In a first-of-its-kind action last month, the USDE approved McPherson to go off of NCLB and use a new set of tests developed by the ACT test company. The USDE contends that the alternative system McPherson proposed is more difficult than the NCLB criteria. Nevertheless lawmakers and superintendents have flooded McPherson with phone calls.
Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe our Washington politicians will wake up and end the tyranny of NCLB.
But if our federal legislators fail to kill NCLB, and if the USDE does not allow Kansas an alternate route, there may be one strategy that has not yet been considered. The USDE did give the McPherson USD a waiver from NCLB. If the other 288 Kansas USDs consolidated with McPherson, wouldn’t that give the whole state McPherson’s waiver? Now that is school consolidation that many Kansans would support.