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Superintendents address No Child Left Behind act

School superintendents Glenn Chiodo and Steve Rassier provided an overview - and opinions - on the No Child Left Behind federal legislation this week, addressing the League of Women Voters.

"It's an education philosophy that ideally would close achievement gaps," Chiodo explained of the 2002 legislation enacting theories of standards-based education reform. It's based on the principle that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes.

The act, he explained, does not define a national achievement goal; individual states adopt standards.

"When you see the test scores, Texas' scores are not necessarily the same as Minnesota," Chiodo said of comparisons. "It's not apples to apples."

Minnesota has historically been a high achiever, he said, with high expectations.

The complaints he's hearing are on the number of tests students are expected to take.

"It's overwhelming, come spring," he said of tests administered for students in third grade through high school.

"It's a massive amount of testing," Rassier agreed. He distributed this year's testing schedule, "day after day of testing" scheduled in April. "It's hard to assess the impact."

And the "rules have changed dramatically" since the onset of the testing, Chiodo said. Schools prepare based on guidelines undergoing modifications. "It's like a moving bulls eye."

"And schools can be closed if students are not making adequate yearly progress (AYP)," Rassier reminded his audience of the "high stakes" testing. Schools face sanctions if they do not show AYP in two consecutive years. Remediation is required.

The first year of testing, Park Rapids didn't make AYP because of absenteeism, Chiodo recalled. He subsequently joked he'd send out a cavalry to pick up kids on testing day.

"It's a snapshot of a given day," Chiodo pointed out, citing Minnetonka, a nationally recognized district that did not make AYP.

If a district does not achieve AYP, funds that would be used for math and reading must be set aside to write a remediative plan, he said.

State test results do not arrive until late summer, Chiodo said, making it difficult to make adjustments for fall.

Both lauded the Northwest Evaluation Assessment tests, administered at the beginning and end of the school year. Results of the tests, which are aligned to Minnesota test standards, arrive within a week, as opposed to months.

Tests change, Chiodo pointed out, citing math concepts as an example. "We shore up an area of weakness and then may not have as many questions in that area... It's frustrating. We're chasing a moving target.

"The concept of NCLB is good, but at some point in time all schools will fall behind," he said of the "complicated" testing process. "Philosophically, I agree with tests; it's the process that's difficult."

By law, districts may exclude 1 percent of special education students. Of Park Rapids' 1,550 students, approximately 350 have special needs (including speech impediments, emotional behavioral disorders and learning disabilities.)

A student may be two grade levels below his current grade but must test at the grade he/she is enrolled.

Rassier noted that by 2014, schools are expected to be at 100 percent proficiency. "I don't think that's possible."

Rassier reviewed Nevis' AYP results with League members, explaining participation and proficiency categories and breakdowns by race, origin, special education and free and reduced lunch (poverty levels).

Schools view test results on an individual student basis, grade by grade, Rassier said. "The feds grade by class."

"And that changes all the time," Chiodo said. "At third grade a class passes and fails at fifth grade. It's difficult for families and can be misleading. The test changed. The school didn't fail; the student did his job.

"It's not an accurate barometer on a regular basis," Chiodo said.

Now with testing in the seventh year, data on individual students can be tracked, Rassier said. If students are not proficient, teachers can look at the material.

"The theory's good," he said. "Based on state standards, every teacher knows what a student should know at each grade level."

Rassier said he anticipated some changes to NCLB after the last election. "The testing component will stay in place; feds want accountability."

Districts, he said, may opt out of the testing, but lose federal dollars, $100,000 in Nevis' case.

Students, they agreed, take the testing more seriously in high school, when it affects graduation.