Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Thoughts on NCLB, And Some Clarification

I wanted to take a moment and respond to some criticism I received on a prior post about No Child Left Behind, and my experiences as an education reporter in Nevada. Eduwonk blogger Andrew J. Rotherham took me to task for what he described as a misunderstanding of how the federal education law holds schools accountable.

Here’s what I wrote: “Under the original parameters of NCLB it doesn’t take much for a school to fall short. Failing to have 95 percent of eligible students present for testing will do it. Low performance by just one or two students in a particular subgroup can also lead to a failing grade.”

I should have explained that I was referring specifically to Nevada’s formula for measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (every state had some leeway in developing its own matrix). NCLB requires schools to show achievement both overall and by various student subgroups, including ethnicity, special education status, and socioeconomic factors. When drafting its education law to comply with NCLB, the Silver State established its minimum subgroup size at 25, which turned out to be among the smallest in the country. That meant that just a few students absent on the day of the test, or scoring poorly on the actual assessment, could indeed mean failing to make AYP.

I also wrote that “it was literally a painful experience to have to write, year after year, about how many local schools would be labeled as ‘failing’ despite making every logical attempt at improvement.”

What I meant was that schools were being perceived as failing if test scores missed the AYP benchmarks. The use of the word “labeled” implied I was unclear about the official federal designation, which is “in need of improvement.”

Rotherham suggested that by describing the experience as painful, I was somehow shifting the focus to myself, instead of where it rightly belonged – on the students. I couldn’t agree more that the students are the most important element in this complex equation. In fact, I expressed a similar sentiment a few paragraphs earlier in the blog, when I questioned whether the state waivers would really help students and schools.

There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism — even if it comes gift-wrapped in a fair degree of snark. I am always willing to listen, and I always welcome comments and the opportunity to engage in dialogue about the issues related to education and journalism.

Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Contact Emily Richmond. Follow her on Twitter @EWAEmily.

Read other Educated Reporter articles.