Washoe Country School District
No Child Left Behind
UNDERSTANDING NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND,
a Washoe County School District publication.
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On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed a landmark education reform bill, now known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Huge changes are under way in school districts all across the country. As parents and guardians, you have a major role in this law, and as education professionals, we have a responsibility to inform you about the major parts of the law.
What is the purpose of NCLB?
The goal of No Child Left Behind is to create the best educational opportunities for our nation's children and to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed regardless of their income, background, race or ability. It institutes a new, nationwide system of accountability similar to the one already in place in Nevada. It places an emphasis on all children being able to read well by the end of third grade. That particular goal was established two years ago in the Washoe County School District by the Board of Trustees. It requires that states define what students are to know and be able to do (academic standards) at each grade. Such standards are already in place in Nevada and have been toughened in Washoe County. There are, however, major changes and this means more choices for parents.
What's new in the accountability area?
School districts in Nevada have produced accountability reports for the last several years. These reports contain detailed information about each school, its progress in student achievement, demographics on the student body, class size information and much more. The reports will contain some new information that parents can use to judge the progress their child's school is making.
The federal law also requires that every child in grades three to eight be tested in reading and math. Beginning in 2007, testing will include science. The law further requires that the tests be designed by each state and tied to the state's academic standards. Those kinds of tests are called "criterion referenced tests," or CRTs. The results will tell you whether your child is mastering the academic standards. The state of Nevada now requires another kind of test called a "norm referenced test," or NRTs, designed to compare a student, school and district to a national average. Currently, Nevada uses the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test of Educational Development.
The new tests will determine if schools and districts are making "adequate yearly progress," or AYP. If they are not, serious consequences follow and new options are opened for parents.
What is "adequate yearly progress?"
Each state is required to define how well schools are doing in meeting the standards right now, and then to determine a measure of yearly progress. By the end of 12 years, the law requires that all children graduate with a mastery of the basic skills necessary to succeed in college or the world of work.
What if schools do not make adequate yearly progress?
Schools failing to make AYP for two consecutive years will be identified as needing improvement. Parents must be immediately notified of that fact and, if the school is in the federal Title 1 program, given the option of transferring their child to another school not in need of improvement. The district is required (using federal funds) to provide transportation. The school must also devise a plan for improvement.
If a school fails to make AYP for a third year, the same transfer option remains, plus parents are now eligible to request "supplemental services" for their children. The school district is required to develop a list of approved providers, and parents can choose from the list. As with transportation, the extra services are paid for with federal funds.
If a school fails to make AYP for four years, the same two conditions mentioned before remain, but now severe sanctions can be invoked including removing certain staff members and implementing a whole new curriculum.
Because this sweeping new law is intended to improve learning and achievement for all children, AYP is further defined not just on the basis of a schoolwide average, but for various subgroups within the school. Test scores will be broken down by ethnic and racial groups, by family income levels, for students with disabilities and for students whose primary language is not English. Each of those subgroups must meet the AYP target if the school is to avoid the "needs improvement" designation. The law also requires that at least 95 percent of students in each subgroup be tested.
Some critics say that this increased emphasis on testing will force teachers to "teach to the test." Are those people right?
No. If a state or district carefully spells out what students are supposed to know and be able to do, and if teachers are teaching to those standards, then shouldn't the test be designed to measure whether students have mastered the material? That's not teaching to the test.
Why is there such an emphasis on reading in the law?
Reading is the cornerstone for everything else a child does in school. That's why the WCSD Board of Trustees set a goal of every child being to read proficiently by the end of third grade. While we've made some progress, much remains to be done. We have designed a common approach to reading instruction and we welcome the new federal dollars that will be available under this law. Nearly $6 billion will be distributed to the 50 states over the next several years as part of the law's Reading First initiative.
Every elementary school in the district is required to provide at least 90 minutes of uninterrupted time for reading every day.
Does this law address concerns about school safety?
It does. States are required to define a "persistently dangerous school" and parents have the right to transfer their child out of such schools. Parents have the same option if their child is the victim of a violent criminal offense. At this time, no WCSD schools are in this category.
How does NCLB address the need for good teachers in every classroom?
Every school receiving Title 1 funds under this law (except charter schools) must ensure that all teachers in core academic subjects meet the definition of a "highly qualified teacher." That means that he or she must have full certification by the state (with no exceptions or provisions on the license) or have passed the state's teacher licensing exam. New teachers hired this year, and hereafter, have even stricter requirements. Beginning in 2005, teachers in ALL schools must meet this standard.
Under the law, parents can request information on the qualifications of their child's teacher. We have compiled the information for schools receiving Title 1 funds. Information is available from your school's principal.
The bill is complex. It stretches to 1,184 pages. The U.S. Department of Education has a special website devoted to the bill. It's an excellent source of information for parents and educators alike.