Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Understaning and Accepting Student Success Under NCLB

The NCLB legislation and its implementation in the various states is not perfect and we can see by the reauthorization process that changes will be made. It may even be replaced by legislation with a new name. What is not likely to change is the core value that federally funded education should be accountable and allow all students to succeed.

Equity in education used to mean access, the public school system is available to all children, the right to show up in a school. Equity is now being redefined as an opportunity to learn and succeed.

One of the greatest enemies to equity in our public education system is the idea that disadvantaged children cannot succeed. The goal set by No Child Left Behind, that 100% of students can succeed academically, is written off as unattainable. History and experience tells us that some children don't make it. This belief system is rooted in experience rather than a full understanding of what is possible. What has happened in the past does not

need to constrain what can happen in the future.

Therefore, it is important to understand the goal, that 100% of student meet minimum standards by 2014, from a new perspective.

The following is from the book...

...to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. (NCLB, 2001, § 1001).

It is often misunderstood what 100% means in the context of NCLB. It is NOT 100% of students will master 100% of content objectives established by the various states. If that were the case, then the critics that say NCLB is impossible because there will always be “slow” children who don’t make the grade would be correct. However, the goal is not 100% mastery by 100% of children, it is that 100% of children will meet minimum standards of proficiency. That is based on the assumption that every child (except those with the most significant mental disabilities) should achieve at that minimum level in the core subject areas, attaining the basic skills to make it in our society/economy.

Critics who tend to think of student performance as a bell curve might say that there will always be students that fall behind the curve. They are right! But the goal is not to change the bell curve as much as to move the bell curve to the right so that the entire population is above a minimum level of achievement.

"Compressing the Curve"

Most would agree that we should be working toward an environment in which each child can maximize his or her potential for learning. That does not mean that each child’s potential is the same, there is room for growth by the highest achievers as well. In addition to moving the lowest achievers above a minimum achievement level, “moving the curve” can also mean that the “gifted and talented” students that exceed the norm will also achieve at their potential.

High standards and criterion-based assessment were not invented by NCLB, but the law has helped overcome long-standing practices. The traditional notion of grading on a curve no longer is valid. Instead of measuring students against other students, we measure students against standards. Under NCLB we shift our point of reference from what is “normal” within a given student population to what is expected as a minimum for all students. We are in effect “moving the curve”.
However, the priority of NCLB is on minimum proficiency, making sure that every child has minimum skills and knowledge. This might mean initially that the curve is compressed to the right as we put more effort into moving under-achievers to minimum proficiency.

The take away:

Approaching 100% by 2014 will require that stakeholders challenge core beliefs about student learning that are rooted in experience under an old organizational culture. The new definition of equity in education and standards-based measurement of student success and growth form the basis for a new organizational culture.