It's been about a year since Congress passed an education bill calling for mandatory annual testing of school children nationwide. Known as the "No Child Left Behind" Act, the measure also requires detailed tracking of children's academic progress. States' reactions have been mixed. Some say implementing the standards is too costly and resent the federal intrusion - Nebraska is even challenging the constitutionality of the Act in court. In Ohio "No Child Left Behind" is embraced at the state level, but some local school administrators say they'll be hard-pressed to meet the federal standards. ideastream's Bill Rice has more.
At the crux of the No Child Left Behind Act is accountability, according to the Bush administration. School districts need to provide curriculum that meets the educational needs of a modern economy, and they must show measurable success in making sure students meet those standards. And that means testing - lots of it, beginning in kindergarten and continuing all the way through grade 12. Ohio was well-positioned to comply with the Act when it became law, according to the state Department of Education's Dottie Howe.
Dottie Howe: We were on our way with SB 1 three years ago in implementing standards-based reforms. That is, you make it clear to teachers and students and schools what needs to be taught, you make sure it's taught in the classroom, you test it, and then you make everyone accountable for it.
The DOE now has statewide standards in place for reading, math, science and social studies. A new system of statewide achievement tests also went into effect this year - one that was already under construction when No Child Left Behind became law. And, Howe says, DOE officials have been working to bring school accountability into line with the Act.
Dottie Howe: We're taking our report card system and we're blending that with the federal requirement, and hopefully have a model that will show improvement in schools - not only that you made the grade or didn't make it, but how much improvement you show over time. So it's complicated process… we hope to bring that to a vote in January.
And then the plan goes to the Washington for federal approval. State officials say they're confident the federal guidelines are both desireable and achievable. But others see No Child Left Behind as more ominous. Dennis Woods is Superintendent of Schools in Bay Village, a small outer western suburb of Cleveland. He's also past president of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
Dennis Woods: I put this No Child Left Behind legislation characterizes the most intrusive piece of federal legislation since the new deal.
It's not that Woods objects so much to federal involvement. But he says the Act is too long on academic results and too short on financial resources. His district gets only two percent of its revenue from the federal government, he says, yet the impact of the bill on district operations will be enormous. He's especially worried about one provision requiring nearly all special education and limited-English proficient students to be tested. In the past they've been largely exempt.
Dennis Woods: There's a very limiting factor of .5% of the total population of the school district that will be allowed to take an alternative assessment. And that number I think is very unrealistic.
Woods says it will likely lead to large numbers of special ed and non-English speaking students failing the tests, forcing districts to provide tutoring and other special services on a large scale. And for poorer districts, which tend to harbor more students with special needs, the price tag could be prohibitively high. John Brandt, who heads the Ohio School Boards Association, agrees, and he faults Washington for underestimating the demands of special education.
John Brandt: The federal government made that a requirement a quarter of a century ago, but they've never lived up to their commitment to participate in the funding at the level they should have. So that burden is left to the states and local districts and it's an intrusive one. The number they promised 25 years ago is not realistic at this time.
Brandt says he hopes to see Congress, which heads back to work today, take up special ed. funding sometime this year. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.