Gaps in 'No Child Left Behind' need to be filled
Test scores of nearly 2 million students aren't being counted in annual reports for the education law.
DISPARITY in tests that states use to gauge student achievement already has raised questions about the validity of results. A new review of an exemption the federal government allows in reporting test scores
adds further uncertainty about whether the No Child Left Behind law is accomplishing its purpose.
The analysis, conducted by the Associated Press, indicates that some states -- with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education -- are skirting a requirement that students of all races show yearly academic progress.
This, coupled with a wide difference in the rigor of tests individual states choose, might be presenting a false picture of improvement, undermining the intent of the law.
Though congressional leaders reacted predictably to the report with promises to make fixes, they are unlikely to do so until next year when the law must be renewed. In the meantime, education officials should be looking for ways to correct the problems so there is a true measure of the status of the nation's public schools.
The law, a hallmark of the Bush administration, requires that all students in public schools be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools must show that their students are improving through annual tests and report overall results as well as in categories such as race, poverty levels and special needs. Failure to improve in just one category can make or break a school.
The AP review showed that scores of nearly 2 million students, mostly minorities who typically score lower, were excluded from reports even though one of the chief goals of the law is to narrow the "achievement gap" between white and minority students.
In Hawaii, the scores of 7,983 students, 8 percent of 100,432 children, were excluded in 2003-2004. Though all scores are counted in overall assessments, the state is allowed exemptions when there are fewer than 40 students in a category.
The reason is that failure to improve among a small number of students can unfairly distort the general improvements a school is making. For example, if there are only four students in a grouping and three do poorly in tests, the failure rate of 75 percent in that category places the entire school in jeopardy.
However, the review showed that some states are "gaming" the system. The lack of clear standards for exemptions subjects them to political whims. Another growing problem is the reluctance of schools to accept children who might have learning difficulties.
Few deny that the intent of No Child Left Behind is worthwhile, but inconsistencies in administering the law have clouded attainment. That Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was surprised by the extent of the undercounting underscores the government's failure.