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Schools Chief Wants Easing of NCLB Rules

Ohanian Comment: If you didn't read much beyond the headline, you'd think this was a positive thing for kids. Read on. As California parent Nancy Schultz's letter to the editor indicates, something else is afoot.

Dear Editor,
While your headline seemed to indicate that Superintendent O'Connell is going to act for schools and question the requirements of No Child Left Behind, in fact he is doing so at the personal expense of children and students who do not take the test. Children whose parents have them opt out of the test will be labeled as not proficient so that the school can count 95% participation in the test according to NCLB. With this kind of twisted thinking, I have strong fears for democracy.

California gives parents the right to opt out, and the Superintendent will use federal NCLB laws to penalize them. It is a civil right not to take the test; the parents I know opt out because educational money could be better be spent elsewhere. With the budget deficits in California, the huge expense in testing and instructional time needs to be evaluated. One place to save would be to test every other year. It is also a civil right not to be labeled erroneously. I donít know who Superintendent O'Connell represents, but apparently it is not the rights of the individual student.

Nancy Schulz

Schools chief will ask to ease testing rules

State schools chief Jack O'Connell wants to make it easier for California schools to pass a federal measure of school performance by not penalizing schools when parents take their children out of testing.

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that 95 percent of students take standardized tests each year. That rule conflicts with California's testing system, which allows parents to exempt their children.

O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, said he supports the federal law's goal of holding schools academically accountable. But parts of the law are "overly inflexible, leading to inconsistent or unfair results," he said.

"We believe that these changes will paint a more accurate portrayal of the improvement public education is making," he said in a conference call with reporters.

O'Connell plans to ask the state Board of Education and the federal Department of Education to allow California schools to count students with waivers as having participated in the tests. Those students would be given a score of "not proficient." He also wants to lower the required participation rate for schools with fewer than 100 students.

The law requires a 95 percent participation rate and already allows schools some flexibility for student absences, said Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Education.

Nearly one-fourth of California schools failed to meet their performance goals last year because of low participation. A Times analysis of school scores in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties last year found that one-third of failing schools fell short.

Failure to meet the goals results in increasingly severe consequences, from paying for transportation for students who transfer to different schools to complete restructuring of the school.

— Suzanne Pardington
Schools chief will ask to ease testing rules
Contra Costa Times


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