AYP standards under No Child Left Behind are 'astoundingly unrealistic'

Oct 4, 2013 Charles W. Rodgers, Riverton

Editor's note: Due to a Ranger error, an unproofed draft of this letter was published mistakenly on Thursday. The correct version, as submitted, is printed here.


I want to address the tragically unrealistic goals which have become standards of No Child left Behind, the educational mandate under which schools and teachers struggle.

My viewpoint is based on the standardization data of various academic achievement tests. It is unfortunate that policymakers and those who enforce educational standards have not done the same, as it is a fairly easy matter to derive the statistics I will discuss below.

Incidentally, this information was presented years ago to the Wyoming Department of Education and to our own Riverton school board when they were seeking public input prior to the headlong rush to adopt NCLB, obviously to no avail.

First a few comments about the NCLB standards which sound so good but are extremely unrealistic. NCLB requires that all students be proficient in reading, written language and math. Annual yearly progress (AYP) benchmarks have been implemented in hopes of achieving the ultimate goal, which is that by graduation all students will function at the 12th-grade level.

This puts tremendous pressure on schools and teachers, and makes it appear that they are failing to educate students adequately when the standard, which is impossible, is not met.

Some 40 states recently have been granted extensions because they cannot meet AYP goals on time. In the past few years, the Chicago and North Carolina schools have found that only about 30 percent of their high school seniors are reading at "grade level." Before judging those systems as failures, read on. In fact, the results are in line with statistical projections and should have been expected.

Here are some questions and statistical answers based on standardized achievement tests:

- At what level will a student have to perform, compared to his peers, in order to function at the 12th-grade, eighth-month level by the end of his senior year, thereby meeting the NCLB standard?

He has to achieve at the 61st percentile rank in reading, the 73rd percentile ranking in written language, and the 75th percentile rank in math. This means that only about 25 percent to 40 percent will be at the required level. Even by using tricks such as having teachers document a "body of evidence" that a student whose measured achievement is perhaps at the 10th grade level is really doing 12th-grade work, the increase in the "rate of success" will only be a few percentage points.

Unless a school system selects students in the top 25 percent of the general population, there is virtually no possibility of having more than 50 percent of the seniors perform at grade level.

- At what level will a senior who is absolutely average intellectually, at the 50th percentile rank, achieve by the end of his senior year?

On average, using group data, he will perform at the end of 11th grade in reading, mid-10th grade in written language, and early 10th in math. It is an obvious fact that 50 percent of the seniors will function lower than these levels. Not even the prototypical "absolutely average" student would meet the standards required by NCLB.

- How will a student whose function is certainly in the average range (25th to 75th percentile rank) but at the 25th percentile do?

At the end of his senior year, he's predicted to read at the late eighth-grade level, write at the late seventh-grade level, and do math at the early eighth-grade level.

- Isn't it because of the intellectually disabled and special-education populations that schools cannot meet NCLB standards?

No. The intellectually disabled, by definition, comprise 2 percent of the general school population. The entire special education population may be around 10 percent if you count in that group students who only receive speech therapy.

- Where do you find the students who do not meet the NCLB standard of achieving a grade level?

Even using extremely generous calculations, at least 50 percent of the general student body will not meet the NCLB standard. That means, on average, 50 percent of the soccer team, 50 percent of the football team, 50 percent of the band, and 50 percent of the student body in general will function below "grade level" and therefore not meet NCLB standards.

Why schools, teachers and students cannot meet NCLB goals lies within the astoundingly unrealistic standards themselves. NCLB attempts to invalidate the normal distribution curve which applies to virtually all human characteristics and endeavors, including intelligence and academic achievement.

Only those who are almost totally ignorant about statistics can require that all students be like those in the imaginary Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average.

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