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Equity Symposium to Focus on NCLB at Midpoint

The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is raising positive expectations for special education students and focusing attention on the educational needs of poor and minority youth. However, to date, NCLB is significantly behind schedule in meeting its own goals for student performance, teacher quality, academic standards and other key school improvement measures. There also is no tangible evidence to date that the law has made any headway in closing the achievement gap between the nation's wealthier, predominantly white students and those from poor and minority backgrounds.

These and other findings will be presented on November 13th and 14th at "NCLB And Its Alternatives: Examining America's Commitment to Closing Achievement Gaps," a Symposium convened by The Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College and keynoted by Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker.

"NCLB was created ostensibly to build on the Title I legislation enacted in the 1960s that sought to safeguard the equity vision of Brown versus Board of Education," said Michael A. Rebell, Executive Director of The Campaign for Educational Equity.  -'In fact, though its aims are good ones, aspects of the law are undermining that vision. It's clear from these new findings that we need to shift NCLB's focus from unrealistic and ill-defined goals such as -'one hundred percent proficiency' to issues of how to provide all students with meaningful educational opportunities, so that we can ground the law in what kids really need to learn." 

Speakers and discussants include: Richard Rothstein, Ronald Ferguson, Diane Ravitch, Richard Elmore, Frederick Hess, Edmund Gordon, Michael Nettles, Amy Stuart Wells, Arlene Ackerman, Eugene Garcia and Michael Rebell.

Among the findings to be presented at the Symposium:

  • The U.S. Department of Education has "looked the other way as many states have claimed compliance with NCLB while requiring only low skill levels to pass standardized tests."
  • NCLB calls for all students nationwide to be proficient in reading and math by 2014 -- yet researchers conclude that "the notion of proficient student achievement is so poorly defined and varies so much from state to state that it has become a meaningless concept."
  • The percentage of students who were reported to be proficient or above on the state reading/English language arts assessments in Grade 4 ranged from 35% in Missouri to 89% in Mississippi.  For Grade 8, the range was 30% in South Carolina to 88% in North Carolina. The percentage of students who were reported to be proficient or above on the state mathematics assessments in Grade 4 ranged from 39% in Maine and Wyoming to 92% in North Carolina.  For Grade 8, the range was 16% in Missouri to 87% in Tennessee. Those ranges say more about the varying degree of rigor that states bring to their standards than it does about superior performance by states with more impressive numbers, according to researchers presenting at the symposium.
  • NCLB does not define "proficiency," but suggests that states use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for guidance. However universal proficiency according to NAEP standards is almost surely an unattainable target. Witness: On the 2001 international reading test, the highest scorer was Sweden -- yet two-thirds of Swedish students were not reading proficiently, as NAEP defines it. Symposium researchers conclude that even "-'first in the world,' a widely ridiculed U.S. education goal from the 1990s that was supplanted by NCLB in 2002, is actually much modest than NCLB's goal of -'proficiency for all.'"
  • In 2006, the American Federation of Teachers identified only 11 states with both strong content standards and assessments whose items closely matched the standards.  In a study by Achieve, a national network established to ensure equal opportunity and access to post-secondary education, only one out of 15 participating states demonstrated high quality standards and high quality tests that were well aligned with the standards.
  • In 2005, 44 states had at least 3 years of state assessment data for students with disabilities and 42 reported an upward trend in the percentage of students with disabilities who are benefiting from being instructed in more challenging grade level subject matter and making impressive gains.  However, in a study where implementation of NCLB accountability reforms were tracked in two districts in CA, MD, TX and NY across the school years 2001/02 -- 2004/05,  the results of the research illustrated how difficult it is to establish state, district or school-based performance of students with disabilities.
  • NCLB initially promised that all students would be taught by "high quality teachers"(HQTs) by 2006. However, presenters at the symposium conclude that "there is little evidence that the specific components of [NCLB's] HQT requirements are important for student learning. The presenters conclude that even using those requirements, the 100 percent goal is unattainable, and that "while many States are on the road to having a substantial majority of HQ teachers in all schools, that road will take several more years."
  • As of May 2006, only two states had established an acceptable definition of "high quality teacher" under NCLB and were using that definition to determine the status of teachers of core subjects.
  • As of May 2006, despite the legal requirements of NCLB, no states had in place a plan to ensure that poor or minority children were not being taught by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than other states.
  • As of May 2006, only 13 states were fully compliant with NCLB in terms of providing parents and the public with accurate reports on the number and percentage of classes in core academic subjects taught by high quality teachers, and in notifying parents of students in Title I schools when their children had been assigned to, or taught for four or more consecutive weeks by, a non high quality teacher. 

The findings are contained in nine papers that researchers will present over the two days of the Symposium. On November 15th, The Campaign for Educational Equity will convene its national advisory board with the goal of producing policy recommendations based on the new research.

"NCLB and Its Alternatives: Examining America's Commitment to Closing Achievement Gaps" is sponsored by the Laurie M. Tisch Foundation. It is being held at Teachers College's Cowin Conference Center on Monday and Tuesday, November 13th and 14th. A full agenda of the symposium is available at  Summaries and copies of the full reports being presented will also be available starting November 13th on the same site.

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