Friday, December 09, 2011


By Judy Elliott |LA Daily News Op-Ed |

12/04/2011  ::  Congress has begun to update the No Child Left Behind Act, the nation's primary federal law supporting students in kindergarten through high school. There is little disagreement that this law is in need of significant reform.

As the former chief academic officer for Los Angeles Unified School District and assistant superintendent in the Long Beach Unified School District, I have seen first-hand how the law has impacted our schools, educators, parents and students.

Unfortunately, instead of addressing the law's shortcomings, the first comprehensive proposal moved by a U.S. Senate Committee would actually turn back the clock on the progress made for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities over the past decade. This proposal is in need of significant changes or it should not be advanced in the U.S. Senate.

As the recent results from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress show, we still have much to do to ensure our nation's students are college- and career-ready. These results showed no real increase in reading achievement for our nation's fourth- and eighth-graders and only marginal increases in math. As changes to No Child Left Behind are considered, Congress should be focused on how to remedy this lack of progress.

Essential to this effort should be maintaining the aspects of No Child Left Behind that have focused our schools on driving achievement for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities, while  also solving its shortcomings.

Instead, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has passed a bill which largely abandons the accountability focused on low-income and minority students and students with disabilities.

Under the Senate Committee bill only the lowest achieving 5 percent of schools in a state would be required to intervene and address their academic shortcomings. This leaves the other 95 percent of schools without any focus on improving student achievement, and abandons the current focus in the law at a time when NAEP and other international benchmarks show all of our schools and students must grow academically in order to succeed.

To truly address the need to change No Child Left Behind and ensure schools remain accountable for all of our children in all of our schools, the Senate bill needs to be fixed. First, the bill needs academic performance targets and graduation goals for schools. The bill's accountability system would be much improved with these targets and goals to ensure schools are aiming for their students to be ready for college or a career upon graduation.

This is especially important for students with disabilities, who have only been included in most state accountability systems for the last 10 years. We now know that students with disabilities can and do achieve. Not reinforcing this through performance targets and graduation goals will allow the clock to be turned back to a time when it was assumed these students could not succeed.

However, performance targets and graduation goals are not enough.

Schools that do not make these goals and targets should be required to address instructional deficiencies in schools. Schools where students are struggling need to monitor and adjust their instructional techniques and expectations for student achievement, implement a robust standards-based curriculum, and offer teacher and administrator professional development to make course corrections and accelerate student achievement.

Inherent within these efforts should be attention to administrator and teacher evaluation, done through valid and reliable assessments that account for the effectiveness of a teacher with all students, and support to improve both leadership and instruction in our classrooms. Without these intentional and targeted efforts, struggling schools doom those students to a life of lowered expectations and achievement, and inequitable opportunities for postsecondary college and career options.

The Senate Committee had a tough job as it worked to address the law's inadequacies. Unfortunately, the bill that was produced falls short in helping schools respond to academic challenges for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. Absent these significant changes, the bill's approval by the full U.S. Senate would amount to a backtracking in our efforts to improve education for disadvantaged students in our country.

Judy Elliott is the former chief academic officer of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Assistant Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District.

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