Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dual Enrollment... Put it on your radar

I read this article from Jay Mathews and felt pangs of guilt...

Washington Post: Dual Enrollment Courses -- Up From Obscurity (10/23/07)

My guilt comes from not pressing this issue more in Rochester.

I raised the issue several times with the board, hoping to spark some interest in expanding dual enrollment. But of course, I had no luck. Something's only considered worthwhile by this board if we're already doing it.

Dual enrollment is offered in Rochester, but I've heard from parents who explain that one really needs to jump through hoops for "the privledge" of dual enrollment. In the end, I suspect it's all about the money. The board is willing to put money into purchasing a $60,000 postage machine, but doesn't have enough to expand dual-enrollment opportunities.

There are some good examples locally. Dearborn has very strong ties with Henry Ford Community College. I'm told that many students will graduate from high school already having earned college credits, with some approach enough credits to simultaneously earn an associates degree. Howell School district just build Parker High, which shares space with Livingston Community College. There are some safety issues to address at Parker (with college students and college professors), but pioneers oftentimes face problems and I think it's a great concept and worthy of the startup headaches.

It's amazing to me that Rochester Community Schools doesn't do more in conjunction with Oakland University. We're right in their backyard, and perhaps if we can raise parental and student interest in dual enrollment, it'll pressure the Rochester board into doing the right thing for our kids.

The report referenced in the article can be found here.

Here is the whole Washington Post article in case the link doesn't work:

Dual Enrollment Courses -- Up From Obscurity

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007; 12:12 PM

I have lost track of how many articles and columns I have written about Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, the college-level high school courses whose rapid growth have been the most beneficial development in secondary education in the last two decades. At the same time, sadly, I have overlooked another college-level offering, the dual enrollment course. These college courses taken by high schoolers have been hard to analyze because they come in so many varieties and because so little research has been done on their effects.

Their status as a neglected cousin of AP and IB is beginning to change, however. National organizations are promoting their expansion, and, for the first time, scholars are assessing their impact. The most interesting research so far came out just last week. The title is pretty dull -- "The Postsecondary Achievement of Participants in Dual Enrollment: An Analysis of Student Outcomes in Two States," -- but the information produced for the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Minnesota is exciting.

Dual enrollment courses are usually community college or four-year college courses taken by high school students, either at the college or at their high schools with instructors paid by, or at least supervised by, the college. Looking at the records of 299,685 dual enrollment students
in Florida, the researchers found that taking dual enrollment courses correlated to higher rates of high school graduation, enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges and academic performance in college. Students who took dual enrollment courses while enrolled in Florida high schools had higher college grade point averages and more college credits three years after high school graduation than similar students who had not done dual enrollment.

A review of the records of 2,303 New York students found those in the "College Now" dual enrollment program were more likely to pursue a bachelor's degree and have better college grades their first semester than students of similar backgrounds who did not do dual enrollment.

Despite the evidence that these college courses -- like AP and IB -- give high school students a taste of college rigor that can bring college success, the researchers reported that many students are being denied a chance to take them. The ill-considered limits on high schoolers who want to take college-level courses is also a big problem for AP, and suggests that most of our high school administrators and many state education officials are in dire need of an attitude adjustment.

Report authors Melinda Mechur Karp, Juan Carlos Calcagno, Katherine L. Hughes, Dong Wook Jeong and Thomas R. Bailey are with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. They found that students are often barred from credit-earning dual enrollment college courses if they do not maintain a certain high school grade point average or cannot pass a placement test.

In Florida, they say, a high school student must have an unweighted 3.0 average in high school and pass a placement test to qualify for dual enrollment, unless the college course is technical or vocational. The colleges in New York City that oversee dual enrollment courses have similar bans on students who do not pass placement tests. Karp told me a federal survey concluded that about 85 percent of colleges with dual enrollment courses restrict access in this way.

There are good reasons for colleges to keep college students -- repeat, college students -- out of their for-credit courses until they are ready. It remains to be seen whether their qualification rules are reasonable. I have heard some complaints about them and plan to look into the issue.

I think it makes much less sense for colleges to keep motivated high school students out of college-level courses. The high schoolers who give these courses a try may indeed fail them, but after interviewing AP and IB students for the last 26 years, I have yet to find anyone who thinks that struggling in a college level course in high school is anything but a beneficial experience. The alternative to an AP or IB course is often a regular course designed in many ways to keep students and parents happy with good grades for little work. That is not the way to prepare students for the foot-high reading lists and two-hour exams they find when they get to college.

For a long time, high schools have routinely prohibited students from taking AP courses unless they have a strong B average or a teacher's recommendation. Research by the College Board, based on the strong PSAT scores of many of those average B and C students, show that many would be capable of doing well in AP courses if the barriers were lifted. School districts in such places as Fairfax County, Va., and Guilford County, N.C., have discovered that if AP courses are opened to all students regardless of their academic records, many newcomers would do well on the AP exams when given enough extra time and encouragement.

Mindful of the similar impediments to getting into dual enrollment courses, the authors of the report urge a loosening of restrictive eligibility requirements. Federal data show that despite recent growth, the number of schools that offer dual enrollment and the number of students who take the courses lag behind AP, which only reaches about 25 percent of high school students. The authors conclude that many more students would benefit from the opportunity if given a chance.

Gillian B. Thorne, a national activist on dual enrollment and director of the Early College Experience Program at the University of Connecticut, endorsed the report's recommendation. She said her program lets high schools decide who takes the college courses. "We set absolutely no threshold," she said.

It would be useful to hear from readers how dual enrollment eligibility works in their high schools. I can't tell how much of a problem the grade point and placement test restrictions are until I have more information. As the report authors say, there is very little useful data. Their research is a good start, but we have a long way to go.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

"No Child Left Behind", Expectations, and Accountability

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to post this, because I'm sure that some will misintrepret the message offered by the author.

Detroit News: Why 'No Child' was needed (10/25/07)

I guess it all depends on expections and accountability.

I've included the article below in case the link doesn't work:


Why 'No Child' was needed
Karin Chenoweth

A very odd notion is circulating these days that the No Child Left Behind law has forced schools to become boring, dull places where children do endless worksheets and are discouraged from thinking for themselves. This argument holds that under "No Child," students are forced to simply regurgitate what teachers tell them, which -- because of flawed standardized tests -- is often confusing and sometimes demonstrably false. Get rid of the tests, or at least pay less attention to their results, critics say, and schools can return to their pre-"No-Child" excellence.

Particularly with Congress considering reauthorization of the law, versions of this argument are heard almost any time No Child Left Behind is discussed. I find it very puzzling.

I keep wondering: Don't the people making this and similar arguments know that long before No Child Left Behind, far too many classrooms were boring, dull places where children were forced to do endless worksheets, discouraged from independent thinking and subjected to teachers providing confusing and sometimes demonstrably false information?

For example, my eighth-grade history teacher in suburban New Jersey taught that the American system of slavery was fair not only to the slaveholders but also to the slaves. He did not present his assessment as opinion but fact, and (hard as it is to believe today) was backed up by the textbook we studied. At least he
tried to teach us something. My eighth-grade science teacher told our class point-blank, "You aren't going to college anyway, so it doesn't matter what I do." He didn't teach much of anything, and his class was a zoo, teetering on dangerous. My elementary school teachers had been able to control their classrooms, but they didn't teach a whole lot of history, science, art or music. In introducing a unit on batteries, for instance, my fifth-grade teacher said: "I don't like science either, but we are supposed to cover this." She never bothered finding out whether we learned anything about batteries -- tedious "covering" was enough.

Educators often complain that every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he's an expert because he went to school, so I try not to draw too many conclusions from my personal experiences. But they are consistent with every serious history of education I have read, and they are hardly unusual. Most baby boomers I have talked with consider themselves lucky if they had one or two really good teachers in their school careers -- which means they sat through a lot of not-so-good instruction.

Fast-forward to my children's educational experience in Montgomery County, Md. Now in college, my daughters went to public school before No Child Left Behind was passed and as it was taking effect. Though in many ways they had an education superior to mine, they both had their share of tedious, confusing and demonstrably false instruction.

In fact, once they entered middle school, I noticed that if there was no outside assessment, it was a tossup whether the teachers taught much of anything at all. Sixth-grade English was pretty much a waste for my older daughter, in part because her teacher spent inordinate amounts of class time updating her computerized inventory of Beanie Babies.

Ninth-grade science was the same, with the teacher handing out worksheets and then answering e-mail and playing computer games. In honors chemistry, the teacher endlessly shared his low opinion of the principal, students and their parents. He didn't bother to teach much chemistry.

Those teachers were able to get away with such low levels of instruction because no outside assessment held them responsible for whether their students learned anything.

My younger daughter, more than her sister, benefited from two trends now sweeping the country: accountability and rigorous curriculum. Because her high school adopted the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which has assessments scored by professionals outside the school she attended, my younger daughter enjoyed both a high-level curriculum and teachers who were not afraid of being held accountable.

Every child deserves that. The International Baccalaureate curriculum may be a bit of overkill, but a deep, rich curriculum that aims at helping children become educated citizens should be available to every child.

If teachers have little incentive to teach anything that is not on the state tests, we should fix that. Teachers need to be supported by good standards and curriculum, high-quality materials, orderly learning environments, and rigorous assessments. They certainly shouldn't be focused only on teaching what is tested by what are mostly low-level state assessments.

But people should keep in mind that if there are no tests, some teachers have little incentive to teach anything at all.

Karin Chenoweth is the author of "It's Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools." Distributed by the Washington Post.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Performance-based Teacher licensing offers a career path!

Who could possibly be opposed to this, aside from the MEA?

Detroit News: Teacher rating plan would raise quality (10/23/07)

This sounds very similar to
the merit pay plan I wrote about last April offered by the Center for Teacher quality.

I couldn't find any details on the Michigan Department of Education's website,
other than this, so drop me a line if you hear more.

Here is the text of the "right on the mark" Detroit News article, in case the link doesn't work:

Teacher rating plan would raise quality
The Detroit News

Imagine a boss who never considers your work performance for job promotions or licensing. That would be a joke in most fields -- and it's shocking that it isn't in the teaching profession.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan is trying to change that with his new effort to improve Michigan's teacher licensing system.

The bold reforms, rolled out this month, were developed by a committee of parents, higher education experts, K-12 educators and policymakers during the past year. They want to make state teacher licensing and license renewals based more on teachers' actual impact on students' learning and less on credentials such as advanced degrees, improvement courses and time on the job -- the basis of Michigan's current system.

Under the Flanagan-led plan,
Michigan's licensing process would become a three-tiered, performance-based system. Teachers' performance would be evaluated repeatedly to ensure high standards throughout teachers' careers -- and better teaching for students.

At tier one, young teachers' performance and teacher preparation training will be considered. At tier two, the state will continue to assess performance before renewing teachers' licenses.

At tier three, teachers who want to become "senior teachers" would voluntarily meet even higher standards. Seasoned teachers like the idea because it gives them an opportunity to advance without becoming administrators.

This also provides an objective mechanism for administrators to reward teachers who continue to strive for excellence. And it's a smart way to retain experienced, high-quality teachers, which Michigan needs as it ramps up its standards and high school curriculum.

Flanagan's ideas make so much common sense, they will be surely attacked by teachers' unions and their advocates. The public and political leaders need to make sure these reforms are not gutted to become meaningless.

Expect a fight about who will design the teacher evaluation assessments and how assessments will be done. It will be easy to water down such evaluations.

So any state committee charged with developing the assessment must not be over-weighted with representatives of the Michigan Education Association and AFT Michigan.

Another caveat: If Michigan's student achievement tests and passing standards continue to be lowered -- as the state has done twice in recent years -- then tying teacher performance evaluations to their students' test scores would help make these reforms meaningless.

"We have some schools where students can practically pass themselves on tests, they're so easy," says State Board of Education member Marianne McGuire, a Democrat.

To address this pitfall, Flanagan is proposing Michigan use what is called the growth model, an objective, technology-based method of tracking teachers' impact on individual student learning compared with students' previous ability. This system takes into consideration schools' socioeconomic challenges -- one of the MEA's major criticisms -- and allows for districts to pinpoint the teachers whose students consistently fall behind.

That tool would make it increasingly difficult for the worst teachers to hide in their classrooms and keep up their licenses.

"We want to be in the top 10, not only for football, but for education," Flanagan says.

Teacher quality is one of the most important influences on student achievement. For students' sake, state policymakers need to make sure special interests do not curtail the implementation of these courageous improvements.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Diluting Rigor with "Positive Energy"

There are two board seats up for election for the Rochester Community School district, and there are seven candidates for those seats.

Here is what one of them had to say in the local paper today:

Rochester Eccentric: Talbert focused on student success (10/21/07)

I know candidate Beth Talbert. She's an intelligent, nice person who has been involved in the district for some time. I served with her on a committee, and in that particular setting I felt she truly wanted to improve rigor in the district. I like her. But outside of that setting I continue to hear this same alarming message over and over, which suggests that there is some "status quo" thinking swirling around in her:

"Clearly college success and employment success has a lot more to do with other factors than just whether or not you took AP exams," she said. "In no way do I want to minimize that; I absolutely think we should be encouraging that. But that's a very small segment of our school population. So what I personally would like to do is just broaden this dialogue. What about the other 90 percent of our students?"

That might be fine if the district were too focused on AP, but it's not. Michigan is in the bottom half of states when ranked by AP exams taken per thousand upperclassmen, and Rochester ranks below it's peer groups by almost any measure. And there is no official board-level effort whatsoever to change that. None. Zero. Zip.

But the larger problem I see with this kind of thinking is that it's the same kind of "positive energy -- no meat" thinking that has been used to dilute academics in this district for years.

I've got to wonder how that statement would play in Grosse Pointe, Okemos, Troy, Bloomfield, Jenison, Forest Hills, East Lansing, Birmingham, East Grand Rapids, or any of the other districts that are helping lead their children in great numbers to high levels achievement.

But let me be clear: This posting here is not about this particular candidate, but instead is meant
to focus on the underlying philosophy I find so harmful to public education. I've been battling it for my three years with sitting Rochester board members and some district administrators.

For years, the unwritten philosophy in Rochester -- and many other districts -- has been that AP is only for the "top students." The district didn't allow sophomores to take AP classes. The high school course catalogue is chocked-full of electives designed to provide "choice" for students who are not "AP Caliber"; classes like "Wilderness Survival" and "Guitar", and classes that teach "checkbook math" and cooking.

While the article contains the obligatory, "In no way do I want to minimize that (AP Participation); I absolutely think we should be encouraging that" comment, there seems to be a very clear effort to divert attention from AP.

In fact, the very next statement again reinforces the misconception that AP is for the elite, "But that's a very small segment of our school population... What about the other 90 percent of our students?"

Good question. What ABOUT the other 90 percent? Why aren't they being directed to the type of rigorous work that will prepare them to compete with other students for seats at selective universities?

The article goes on with the kinds of statements that are common in education:

"What if your student is a C student? Wouldn't it be great if our emphasis was on helping that student become a B student," she says. "Or the B-minus student becoming an A-minus student. Or the student who has no interest in college - hates coming to school - what are we doing to make sure in this economy they can get a job right after high school? ... I don't feel that we are focusing enough on the big picture."

Aside from the very last sentence, who on earth would be opposed to any of what was said? Shouldn't the school already be doing that? And who can tell what that means? Is that a proposal to design some sort of intervention strategy?

No, it's simply "feel good" stuff.

In fact, I'd bet that statement could be used by any candidate in any district in any of the past 10 years, and it would fit just fine.

This approach really concerns me because it's based on the appearance that the district needs to stop focusing on these elite "high achievers" and get back to the basics. That concern is completely unfounded, and there is no evidence that the Rochester school board has been focusing on AP (despite my efforts to change that!) In fact, if anything, the board has been too preoccupied with this "big picture" thing instead of focusing on anything in particular, and does far too little to focus on challenging all students.

The effort to "focus on the big picture" diverts attention from the small, measurable, attainable goals, that can be used to improve a school. See my previous blog posting on "The Great MEAP Disconnect" to see how "the big picture" is applied in Rochester.

Increasing student achievement at all levels is a philosophy, not a goal.

Public education will continue to flounder until it starts setting small, defined, meaningful and measurable goals, which target BOTH at-risk students and talented learners.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Great MEAP Disconnect

There's not a lot of comparison or benchmarking data to be found on Michigan schools. Data beyond the MEAP, that is. The MEAP is the only game in town. And despite the complaints about the MEAP lodged by the education community, I suspect they'd work pretty hard to keep the MEAP if there was any talk of switching to a nationally-normed test.

We saw this when there was talk of switching from the high-school MEAP to the Michigan Merit Exam (MME), which is based on the ACT college entrance exam.

Fortunately those who are data-driven won out over those who are, well, less driven.

Switching was the right thing to do. The recently released results help paint a much better picture of just how much work we have ahead of us.

And now comes Liam Julian of the Fordham Foundation with some strong ammunition showing that a similar move in elementary school would be appropriate too.

Detroit News: Michigan's tests leave children behind (10/10/07)

Here is a link to Fordham's great report, "The Proficiency Illusion"

I saw tangible evidence of this MEAP disconnect at my last Rochester board meeting and asked again for a nationally-normed test in Elementary. During a discussion on setting academic goals (don't get too excited... this conversation's been ongoing for a year and a half), several on the board (a majority, in fact) indicated they were content maintaining the district's "95th percentile" MEAP achievements in several subjects.

That percentile ranking means that Rochester students score better than 95% of the districts in Michigan. Certainly admirable.

But in sixth grade, when students take their first national test, they land in the low 70th percentile range for reading/language, and 84th for math. What does this tell us, when these same sixth graders are still in the 96th/97th percentile range on the MEAP?

What this means is that Rochester is in the top echelon of Michigan schools, but that doesn't mean much on a national basis.

In short, there is a great disconnect between the MEAP results, and the results seen on nationally-normed tests.

My suggestion to look at a national test in elementary was met with, "Our teachers are pretty busy. Let's give them a few more years."

Sorry, but I'm not satisfied with 95th percentile on the homegrown Michigan MEAP, unless someone can convince me that our students are only going to compete against Michigan kids throughout their lives.

==> Mike.

Here is the whole article in case the link doesn't work:

Michigan's tests leave children behind

Low passing scores create 'proficiency' illusion that sets up students for failure

Liam Julian

Susie Smith is a Michigan fourth-grader. Her parents get word that she has passed the state test, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). She's "proficient" in reading and math. They understandably take this as good news; their daughter must be "on grade level" and on track to do well in later grades.

What Susie's parents don't know is Michigan's state test is far from rigorous. The Wolverine State sets its "proficiency passing score"-- the score a student must attain to pass the test -- among the lowest in the land.

If Susie lived in, say, Massachusetts or South Carolina, she would have missed the proficiency cut-off by a mile. This is the proficiency illusion.

No Child allows illusion

At the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act is the call for all American school children to become "proficient" in reading and mathematics by 2014. Yet No Child allows each state to craft its own definition of proficiency, and craft the tests that will measure it.

Until now, Michiganians had to believe their state's idea of proficiency was rigorous -- they had to trust that their state officials were going to hold all Michigan students to high standards. Unfortunately, that trust may have been misplaced.

Researchers compared the test scores of Michigan students on the state test, the MEAP, with their scores on another national assessment (Measures of Academic Progress). Then they compared MEAP's proficiency cutoff scores with those of 25 other states and determined that MEAP's is one of the lowest. In grade 4 math, only two states of the 26 evaluated have less rigorous requirements.

What's more, Michigan is setting its students up for failure. The score eighth-graders must reach to be considered "proficient" is far harder than the score third-graders need to achieve. That is, Michigan's tests are not well-calibrated across grades.

So Susie may be doing fine (at least on the state test) as a fourth-grader. If she makes normal progress during the next four years, though, she'll be "below proficient" as an eighth-grader.

No middle school problem?

Michigan has reported higher proficiency rates for its younger students. Generally, as students get older, their test scores decline -- leading many people to assume that the state has a middle-school problem. This new research suggests that, perhaps, the tests got a lot harder in the later grades.

We've known for years that there's a problem with many states' academic standards -- the aspirational statements of what students at various grade levels should know and be able to do in particular subjects. That problem turns out to be just the opening chapter of an alarming tale.

Because academic standards aren't the most important element. What drives behavior, determines results and shapes how performance is reported and understood is the passing level on state tests. Most people define educational success by how many kids pass or fail the state test.

Unfortunately, those tests vary so much from state to state that it's tough for parents to accurately gauge whether their children are learning and their public schools are doing their jobs.

The place to start fixing this mess by working toward the creation of national standards and tests that would allow Susie's parents to see how well she's doing relative to children her age in other states. That way, officials in Lansing wouldn't be able to construct such easy assessments for themselves, which artificially raise student scores and take the pressure off the state's schools.

Plus, education standards -- and the tests that measure them -- should be tethered to real-world expectations. What do we want our high school graduates to know; what do they need to know to perform in the economy?

Then everything else should be "backward mapped" so standards and tests in the different grades proceed cumulatively from kindergarten to graduation. It becomes possible to know whether a child is, or is not, on course to meet the 12th-grade expectations.

Satisfactory progress means staying on that trajectory from year to year. If Susie is behind, she has extra learning to do, and extra efforts should be made to see that she gets the help she needs.

As it stands, Michigan parents know only one thing for sure: Largely because of their state officials' shenanigans, they have little idea how well their students are actually doing in school.

Liam Julian is associate writer and editor at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education research group in Washington, D.C., and a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Not every educator is opposed to NCLB

President Bush's landmark education law -- No Child Left Behind -- is worthwhile for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its requirement that schools be judged in part on common standards and measurable results

Many educators do not like being measured because any measuring system is going to be imperfect in some way or another. And they don't like someone else determining what will be measured, or what the measuring standard will be.

With that in mind, the following article from Jay Mathews caught my eye:

Washington Post: Superintendents Suggest Fixes For 'No Child' (10/01/07)

(Note: You may need to sign up for a free Washington Post account if you don't already have one. And if you don't have one, then get one because you're missing out on reading the insightful education articles from Jay Mathews!)

Setting a national standard for education is a scary proposition. But I'm not sure it's any scarier than leaving it to local school boards, who by and large simply rubber-stamp a watered-down curriculum with low standards.

It's sad that this discussion and debate even needs to take place. But keep in mind if school boards were getting the job done on their own, then nobody would give national standards a second thought.

Here is the article in case the link doesn't work:

Superintendents Suggest Fixes For 'No Child'
Some Support National Testing Standards

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 1, 2007; B01

The superintendents of the Washington area's two largest school systems say national standards are needed to measure achievement among public school students, a sharp contrast to other educators who are asking that the federal government have less involvement in the schools, not more.

The support for national tests from the superintendents in Fairfax and Montgomery counties, as well as the superintendent and School Board of Arlington County, is one of the most surprising messages being sent to Congress by area educators hoping to influence efforts to revise the five-year-old No Child Left Behind law.

Interviews with Washington area school leaders and a review of their statements show them in sympathy with nationwide public school support for rating schools by individual student progress, giving more time to bring non-English-speaking students up to annual benchmarks, providing more freedom for parents and teachers to decide how much students with learning disabilities need to improve, and spending more federal dollars to improve teaching quality and increase instruction time.

But by supporting national testing and learning standards, a position that Congress has rejected in previous years, some Washington educators are giving new life to a movement whose most outspoken supporters have been academics and pundits, not school administrators.

"I've never figured out why in the world we wouldn't have a national education standard," said Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. "We have standards for toys and everything else."

Congress might vote on whether to revise No Child Left Behind this year. With criticism of the law ratcheting up, changes are likely.

Jack D. Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County schools, called the current system "incoherent, contradictory and inconsistent." Arlington's School Board, using an argument advanced by Superintendent Robert G. Smith, said No Child Left Behind "provides neither high consistent standards nor consistent measures for accountability."

Some local school leaders say they would like to expand the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally financed sampling of student progress, to create a national learning standard. Arlington officials suggest that a revised federal law include a much larger sample of students so that the achievement tests would be given to all school systems and every school. This year's test was given to about 700,000 students.

Dale wants to turn the No Child Left Behind system upside down. Instead of states creating individual tests and the federal government devising the sanctions and supports for low-scoring schools, he would prefer that the federal government provide the tests. Every school could see where it stood on a national scale, and each state could decide what to do to encourage improvement in low-performing schools.

The views of Dale, Smith and Weast are at odds with many in Congress, who agreed to the unprecedented federal intrusion into schools only because each state retained the power to create testing standards and determine to a great extent how many of its schools would miss the new learning targets. Supporters of a more nationalized system say their views are influenced by the difficulty in figuring out what works with so many different state standards.

What is left unsaid is that in part because of unusually high household incomes and education levels in such school systems as Fairfax and Montgomery's, students in those counties will look very good, on average, on any national scale. And students in poor districts in all likelihood will be at a disadvantage.

Local educators are also asking that annual school assessments focus on how much each child has improved, instead of how much this year's students improved as a group compared with last year's.

"Current testing methods do not gauge or quantify growth over time," said Prince George's County Superintendent John E. Deasy. "In order to know if students are truly not being left behind, we must track the progress of the same students as they move from grade to grade and provide supports, if needed, to improve."

Emphasizing the improvement of each child, sometimes called the "gain score" or "growth model," is a part of a package of revisions suggested by the Alexandria-based National School Boards Association. "Growth is a more accurate measure of success, particularly for students who are traditionally at risk," an association report said. The association's proposal has been endorsed by school boards in Frederick, Howard, Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, as well as Manassas and Fredericksburg.

Several local educators said they support a revision of the law that would make it less likely that schools would miss federal targets just because a few students had missed a few questions on one test. Frederick County school board member Bonnie Borsa called the current setup an "all-or-none" system and said it "does not take into consideration the number of students who do not show proficiency or by what degree they missed the mark."

Several local school leaders said the law also puts too much emphasis on labeling schools that missed the mark as "needing improvement" and too little emphasis on helping them improve. "The data is being applied arbitrarily and used as a hammer and not as a way of improving achievement," said Dennis Kellison, superintendent of Winchester public schools in Virginia.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said: "Instead of relying solely on tests, we must meet the demands of our low-performing schools with intensive assistance and support. We must support especially the social, emotional and intellectual needs of students and find innovative ways to engage parents in the education of their children."

Many local educators said they were unhappy that students with learning disabilities often have to take exams given to students without disabilities and be judged by standards considered inappropriate for them by their parents and teachers. Dale has suggested to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a co-author of the No Child Left Behind law, that such students be judged by their progress in meeting the goals in their individualized education plans, drawn up by their parents and teachers, and not by federal benchmarks.

Some parents of disabled students have said, however, that without the federal benchmarks, school systems would have fewer incentives to give children the challenging lessons they need. Weast said he was also concerned about "watering down our expectations."