Relief from No Child Left Behind would be welcome

The state of Alaska is considering an application for a waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal law that requires standardized testing and reporting of Adequate Yearly Progress in public schools.

As has been argued since the measure was signed into law in 2002, No Child Left Behind's one-size-fits-all approach to education has never been a good fit for a place as diverse as Alaska, and a waiver from its provisions would bring welcome relief to school districts across the state, including here on the Kenai Peninsula.

The goals of No Child Left Behind are laudable -- raising achievement among the nation's students and closing the achievement gap between privileged and underprivileged student populations. Indeed, the law has had many positive effects, compelling school districts to focus on students who otherwise might slip through the cracks.

But there's always been a major flaw in the legislation: under the law, every student is expected to be "proficient" by 2014.

Again, the goal is laudable, we certainly want every student performing to his or her potential. But it's also an unrealistic expectation, and the consequences for not meeting the ever-increasing threshold of Adequate Yearly Progress can be severe. In addition to jeopardizing funding, schools can be labeled as failing, even if they're making progress from year to year.

"The negative side (of NCLB) is that it caused schools that don't quite make it to be viewed as failing when in fact they may be doing quite well," Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater recently told the Clarion. "They've taken a big step forward, they just didn't make it over the bar."

To qualify for a waiver, a state must have its own standards for accountability in place -- and we certainly expect those standards to be rigorous. A spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development said the state already is working on higher standards independent of the No Child Left Behind waiver process, and those standards could help in acquiring the waiver.

The state also would have to have a mechanism in place to assist schools not making the grade, and would need to find a way to link teacher evaluations with student test data.

In fact, these issues would have been better left to state and local governments to address in the first place. The state is on the right track in developing higher standards for education, and we encourage the Department of Education and governor to sign off on a waiver application, so that we might determine for ourselves if our progress in educating our children has been adequate.

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