Lawmakers look to tweak No Child Left Behind law
Special needs and new immigrant kids could gain some exemptions.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published February 11, 2007
WASHINGTON - When Tori Boyles of Columbia, Mo., takes a test at school, an adult often reads the questions to her because the 9-year-old has learning disabilities that make reading difficult.
That kind of accommodation generally is not allowed for the reading test that public school students take under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Also, skipping the exam is not permitted for Tori, who has spina bifida, a condition often accompanied by learning problems.
"Why isn't there an option to opt out of that?" asked her mother, Becky Boyles. "She just has to stare at this piece of paper."
Boyles and other parents are not the only ones frustrated when children such as Tori take federally mandated tests and do poorly. Some school administrators say they feel trapped by the system, and say lagging children risk being blamed for an entire school's failure.
The dilemma is how to fix the problem without abandoning children with special needs.
Under the federal law, which seeks to get all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014, schools have to analyze the scores of groups of children. This includes special-education students and foreign-language speakers who are just learning English.
If certain groups of students fail to meet specific goals, entire schools can be labeled as needing improvement. They then might face steps such as having to replace teachers and principals. Critics say that can place enormous pressure on the lagging groups.
"In some instances, it's made them into scapegoats. You hear, 'Well if it wasn't for these children, then we would be OK.' It's criminal to treat them this way," said Carol Kula, who teaches high school students in Muscatine, Iowa, who are learning English as a second language.
The 5-year-old federal law is scheduled to be rewritten this year, and the lawmakers in charge say they will try to change the rules for special-education students and recent immigrants. The aim is to inject more common sense into the law while sticking with its promise to leave no child behind.
"I think for both of these groups of students, the law was not well designed. It does not acknowledge (that) by definition these kids are not going to meet the same standards at the same pace as other students," said Michael Petrilli, who wrote a book about the law and helped oversee the first years of the program at the Education Department.
The No Child Left Behind law requires annual testing in reading and math in third grade through eighth grade and once in high school.
Parents, teachers and state policymakers are among those pushing for more flexibility in the testing of special-education students and immigrants. Advocates for both groups caution against loosening the rules too much.
Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., who is in charge of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the education law, argues against making a hasty change.
The education subcommittee's top Republican, Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, recently said the law needs to be improved for special-education students and new immigrants. But he stopped short of spelling out what he wants to do.
California Democrat George Miller, who chairs the full education committee, also said these two areas must be reviewed.
One proposal expected to be considered would give schools credit if their students, including those with disabilities or those who are learning English, make strides but fall short of a specific goal.
[Last modified February 11, 2007, 04:44:52]
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