published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Georgia: Study says few children left behind


by ChloƩ Morrison
Audio clip

Jeff Hubbard

Area educators agree with a new study showing that No Child Left Behind is living up to its name, letting fewer students fall between the cracks.

"It follows logic," Hamilton County Director of Accountability and Testing Dr. Kirk Kelly said. "It sort of confirms what we have been seeing since 2003."

But Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, disagrees with findings of the Center on Education Policy study, released Wednesday.

"One of the great criticisms is that the highest achievers -- your gifted level, your above-average students -- have been left behind," Mr. Hubbard said. "I would disagree with the fact that there haven't been students disenfranchised because I've heard it all around the state the last three years."

Under No Child, every school and school system must make "adequate yearly progress," and the percentage of proficient students is a vital statistic in measuring that progress.

Critics of No Child argue that high-achieving students are often not required to continue improving because they have already met the needed proficiency. They also say that students who are low achievers are left out because teachers feel hopeless about being able get them up to the required proficiency.

In the new report, which is the result of a three-year study by the independent, nonprofit organization, researchers aimed to find out if the intense focus on bringing students to the federally-mandated "proficient" level would shortchange the highest- and lowest-achieving students.

Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy, said his organization found that students of all proficiency levels are making gains on standardized tests -- not being left behind.

Whitifield County Schools spokesman Eric Beavers said that is the case in his system.

"We have seen gains in just about all areas of achievement," he said in an e-mail. "We credit our professional learning for training teachers to design engaging work for their students -- work students want to do -- and getting to know the individuals in their classrooms."

Dr. Kelly said the report asks an important question and that for Hamilton County educators the possibility of shortchanging students was a concern. However, Tennessee's "valued added" assessments helps make sure all students are improving, he said.

Value added assessments measure how far students have improved from one school year to the next.

Some area educators said No Child doesn't allow for individualized teaching or creativity and that teaching students with the goal of achievement on a standardized test is a disservice.

"While educators appreciate the focus on student achievement, there is a concern that so much attention is focused on a single test and there isn't enough time to balance a child's education with opportunities in other areas like music and the arts," Catoosa County Superintendent Denia Reese said in a prepared statement.

Mr. Hubbard said he hopes that President Barack Obama's administration will make changes to improve the federal act.

"We want all children to be proficient at a level where they can be successful," he said. "(It is not) just about getting a certain number on a standardized test."

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