MS. REBECCA SHEIR
For nearly a decade, the D.C. public schools have been somewhat out in the cold when it comes to meeting federal educational standards, specifically No Child Left Behind. Under that law, students are supposed to be 100 proficient in reading and math by 2014. But many schools aren't meeting those targets so the Obama Administration is offering waivers, which it says will allow districts to continue to make improvements while moving away from what it calls too much emphasis on a single, standardized test on a single day.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, D.C. is joining about 40 states that have either applied or said they will apply for the waiver. Education reporter Kavitha Cardoza has more on what this means for the city's schools and students.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Kealyne Elrahzari (sp?) is the assistant superintendent of elementary and secondary education for all D.C. public schools, both traditional and charter. She says she supports many aspects of No Child Left Behind.
MS. KEALYNE ELRAHZARI
Looking at accountability in a systemic way, looking at how separate groups are performing. Whether it's by ethnicity or race or gender and then holding schools accountable, holding school districts accountable for how we support our schools to show that student learning is taking place.
Which echoes the Obama Administration's call to move beyond what it calls bubble tests and dumb-down standards. She says the problem with the law is it only focuses on whether a school has made the target or not and the bar is continually being raised.
It applied a standard that was uniform to all schools and didn't take into account the uniqueness of each of the schools or other contributions that are taking place at the school that get at how a school is performing such as how many of our students are taking advanced course, how many of our teachers are rated highly effective, what is our truancy rate.
Elrahzari says an overwhelming number of schools in D.C. are in some form of mandatory improvement. Last year, approximately 70 to 74 percent of elementary and high school students were supposed to hit reading and math targets.
Out of the 187 schools that were assessed under the D.C. CAS, only 25 of those schools made adequate yearly progress in both subjects.
But she says if D.C. is allowed to opt out of certain provisions of No Child Left Behind, it will allow schools to measure effectiveness beyond just two or three benchmarks. The District has already begun implementing what's called the common core curriculum, rigorous expectations for what students should learn every year from kindergarten through high school. Approximately 40 states will follow the same standards, which were created to get students ready for college or a career when they graduated. Elrahzari says D.C.'s application will also look at other measures, such as how many students are ready for kindergarten, how many take remedial college courses and how many take the SAT's.
We're looking at our students attending school, are they returning to the same school and on the special populations sections we want to look at how our English language learners learning English. Are they on track to learn that and for special education we're looking to see how many of those special education students take the D.C. CAS versus the alternative assessment.
Critics have said allowing states to pursue different targets will create a jumble, making it impossible to compare them and the Alliance for Excellent Education and Advocacy Group says some states give too little weight to certain measures, such as whether students are graduating. For example, in Kentucky and New Mexico, graduation rates only count for approximately 15 percent of the accountability system. D.C.'s waiver application isn't yet complete, but Elrahzari says moving away from No Child Left Behind as its written now is good for D.C.
As a former teacher and school district administration, it can be disheartening when you show so much progress and you've made such significant gains despite the circumstances and you don't get credit for that because there's a target that has to be met and nothing else is considered.
D.C.'s application is due February 21st and once it's done, school officials will spend the rest of the winter months hoping the request is approved. Final word is expected back from the Obama Administration by the summer. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
What's your opinion, is D.C.'s pursuit of a "No Child Left Behind" waiver a good move? You can find us on facebook, at facebook.com/metroconnection.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the break, a bittersweet reunion as members of the military come home from war.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1
When I left, he was a toddler and came back, he was a boy.
It's just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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