I would argue that educators as a whole hold a wide range of differing views about the merits of NCLB (No Child Left Behind, for readers who are non-educators). And no doubt, as with any complex piece of legislation, there are good aspects and not so good aspects. But there is one thing, I suspect, on which most educators would agree: NCLB is badly misnamed. This legislation – whether we think it is generally a good thing or generally a bad thing – is leaving plenty of kids behind. I have witnessed the following corollary to NCLB:
Corollary 1.1. The extra time, energy and resources a child will get is directly proportional to the probability that he passes this year.
This corollary seems to apply to all kids but is most pervasive among kids who last year failed to meet basic proficiency requirements (as defined by state assessments). This corollary explains two common practices in schools. First, kids who were far from meeting the mark last year – and consequently, have a low probability of passing this year – are unlikely to receive much (if any) extra time, energy or resources. This is unfortunate since these kids need it most. Clearly, these students are “left behind.”
Second, of all the students who didn’t pass last year, the kids who were close to passing last year – the “bubble kids” – have the highest probability of passing this year. Ergo, by Corollary 1.1, these kids generally commandeer more than their fair share of extra time, energy and resources. This is a commonplace by-product of the cost-benefit analyses that NCLB legislation encourages by principals and other leaders. It may not help boost the school report card when the data are disaggregated by subgroup, but it can show growth overall in the percentage of students passing this year as compared to last year and as compared to the school down the street. (After all, this number is more likely to be published in local newspapers or shared on the local news. The public perception of the school is often influenced by this single number.)
It seems to me that keeping track of a school’s overall passing percentage as well as how it serves learners in each of the various sub-groups is a sensible thing to do. But somewhere in the school report card (ala NCLB legislation) there should be data that reflect where a student was at the start of the school year and how far the teacher/course took him by the end of the year. That is, we ought to keep track of measurements of individual student growth. This levels the playing field for teachers who teach a disproportionate number of low-ability kids, or who teach kids who have ample ability but are starting the year way behind grade level. This would also serve to generate a more equitable distribution of the extra time, energy and resources for all kids.
Next week I will address NCLB and the gifted student. Tune in then……dven.