- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2011

The numbers keep getting worse for the nation’s education system.

In the 2010-11 academic year, 48 percent of public schools — a record high — failed to meet the “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks established by the No Child Left Behind act, according to a new study by the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan think tank.

D.C. Public Schools ranked near the bottom, with 87 percent failing to clear the bar, the report says. Only Missouri was worse, with 88 percent of its schools falling short.

Wisconsin schools performed the best, with 11 percent missing the mark. In Maryland and Virginia, 45 percent and 62 percent, respectively, didn’t make adequate yearly progress.

Since No Child Left Behind was implemented a decade ago, each state has used standardized reading and math tests to determine schools’ progress and the number of students deemed proficient in both subjects. Each year, the federal bar is raised higher, which has consistently led to fewer schools meeting adequate yearly progress.

In 2006, only 29 percent of U.S. schools missed the targets. The percentage has risen gradually each year, before making the largest jump — 39 percent to 48 percent — between 2010 and 2011.

Schools that come up short are designated as “failing” institutions, a label based entirely on the year-end tests mandated by No Child Left Behind.

The law calls for 100 percent of the nation’s students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, but that goal is widely viewed as unattainable by policymakers and education analysts, nearly all of whom agree the legislation has outlived its usefulness and is in need of an overhaul.

The results “show that NCLB needs to be amended. It’s just too crude a measure of accountability,” said Center on Education Policy President Jack Jennings, who also spent 25 years as general counsel to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

While reform efforts have gained traction in the House and Senate, Mr. Jennings and many others think it is unlikely Republicans and Democrats will pass such an important piece of legislation during the 2012 presidential election year. As a back-up plan, the Obama administration announced earlier this year it will begin granting waivers from No Child Left Behind to states that put forth their own reform proposals.

For now, however, Mr. Jennings said states have little choice but to take the results as gospel.

“The schools depend on those test scores” to determine how they stack up to other institutions across the state and nationwide, Mr. Jennings said.

But each year, the scores seem to follow no logical pattern, with the ethnic makeup of the various states bearing little resemblance to the states’ scores — despite long-standing racial achievement gaps on standardized tests.

Wisconsin, a predominantly white state, did the best, while about 72 percent of the schools in Vermont, another state with an almost all-white population, didn’t meet the threshold.

Texas, with a large Hispanic community, reported that only 29 percent of its schools failed to make adequate yearly progress. California and New Mexico, also homes to large Hispanic populations, are near the bottom, with 66 percent and 87 percent, respectively, coming up short.

State standards have also been called into question. While the act calls for students to be “proficient,” it does not establish a uniform benchmark. States are free to define “proficient” however they choose, often leading to dramatic swings in results.

Delaware, for example, recently lowered its targets after 60 percent of schools missed the mark in 2010. After the change, only 17 percent fall short, according to the survey. The opposite was true in Tennessee, which raised standards and, as a result, saw the number of schools failing to make adequate yearly progress rise from 29 percent in 2010 to 49 percent in 2011.

The Center on Education Policy figures used in the study are unofficial totals obtained from each state’s education department. They could be revised slightly before the Education Department releases official statistics next year.

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