No Child Left Behind

Justin Walker, a kindergartner at Crownhill Elementary School, scrunched his face at the snail on the pint-sized round table in front of him. A moment later, the look on his face turned from disgust to interest as he grabbed the snail with his thumb and forefinger to pull it off the table. With a mighty heave, the snail separated from the furniture, making a “schmlurk” sort of sound. Justin dropped it in a plastic cup and began talking about the little creature in front of him. Justin, like the other children in Jennifer Erickson’s kindergarten class, was having a blast.

He didn’t realize that he was being tricked into learning about science.

In today’s classrooms, fun has become a weapon that no teacher is afraid to use to get students to learn. And children must learn, because the stakes in education have never been higher.

The nuts and bolts

The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, also dubbed No Child Left Behind, raised the stakes on education. The ESEA is broad-based, sweeping education reform that basically states every child in the public school system, including students in the special education curriculum, must make progress every year. The progress is based on the individual state’s standardized testing.

In the state of Washington, this means that every student must make progress on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. The eventual goal is for every student in the state to score 100 percent on the WASL —both reading and mathematics — by 2014.

To achieve the overall goal, the Bremerton School District is taking one stride at a time. Each year, the district will set educational goals that, if met, will lead up to the district meeting the overall goal and, by 2014, no child will be left behind.

This year, for instance, the district’s goals for the 2003-04 school year range from having all students read at their current grade level by the time they leave the fifth grade to having more options for the district’s advanced students, according to the district’s Web page,

“The cornerstone (of the ESEA) is that for the first time, educators are being asked to including every student, including those in special education. They are all being held to the same standard,” said Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, director of special programs for the Bremerton School District.

The difference between the ESEA and any other education reform is the ESEA has some sharp teeth attached, Sullivan Dudzic said.

The WASL scores for every school will be broken down into two groups: all students and eight subgroups. The subgroups are based on ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds: five ethnic groups, bilingual students, students with physical and mental disablities and the disadvantaged. If every group does not make adequate progress in any given year, the entire school fails.

And failure can be costly.

Each district receives a lump sum of Title 1 funds every year based on census data from the mid-1990s. Title 1 funds can be combined with other funding from the state and federal government, which will be used to improve school programs. The low-income and academically challenged students must directly benefit from the programs for Title 1 funds to be used.

The price tag

If a school doesn’t meet its goals after two years, in the third year, the school must create a school improvement plan that outlines the corrective actions it will take. On the third year, the schools must also offer parents a choice of their student attending the same school or being transferred to a school that is meeting its adequate yearly progress.

The federal government is not offering additional funding to cover the improvement steps. Any steps that may be taken for improvement will be paid for out of Title 1 funds, Sullivan-Dudzic said. For instance, if a student is attending an elementary school that is not meeting standard and his parents want him in a different school, the non-performing school has to pick up the transportation tab out of its Title 1 funds.

“That’s where the balancing act comes in,” Sullivan-Dudzic said.

If the school continues to not make adequate yearly progress, in the fourth year the school must offer tutorial services to students who are not making progress. In the fifth year of not making progress, schools have to undergo massive changes in either the curriculum, or make drastic changes in the school’s personnel.

Setting schools up

to fail?

With higher expectations comes more pressure on those on education’s front lines: the school teachers and principals.

Kitsap Lake Elementary Principal Lyle Burbidge, like most of his cohorts, believe in the idealism of the ESEA.

He does think, however, that there are flaws built into the system.

“It’s a pretty complex system,” Burbidge said. “The ESEA says that all kids must meet the standard. While that is a noble, worthwhile goal, it is not realistic.”

One notable point Burbidge pointed out the ESEA conflicts with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“IDEA states that children will receive services in their least restrictive environment,” Burbidge said.

Children who attend Bremerton School District who have learning or physical disabilities are not required to take the WASL. To track their learning, the schools keep a portfolio of their work from year to year.

The ESEA gives schools the wiggle room for 1 percent of students in each school submit a portfolio. At Kitsap Lake, 6 percent of the students meet the requirement for the portfolio.

The ESEA also requires every student to meet the same requirements at the same grade level, Burbidge said. That, too, is unreasonable.

“Every child can learn and can achieve, but every child has a different time clock,” Burbidge said.

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