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Where Do We Stand on NCLB? A Progress Report for Congress

More than 40 states may have waivers from many of the mandates of the No Child Left Behind, but that doesn't mean the U.S. Department of Education is off the hook when it comes to reporting on states' progress toward meeting the goals of the NCLB law to Congress. The administration recently released an NCLB snap shot of sorts, looking at where states were during the 2011-12 school year.

That academic year is particularly key because it is the last before many states began implementing waivers—the Obama administration first offered states waivers at the beginning of 2011.

So how are states when it comes to Adequate Yearly Progress, the yardstick at the heart of the NCLB law? And how are they doing when it comes to ensuring that kids in Title I schools get access to highly qualified teachers (meaning educators with a bachelor's degree and state certification in the subject they are leading)?

Here are some highlights:

  • Even before the waivers kicked in, fewer eligible students were taking advantage of the opportunity to transfer from a school that doesn't make AYP to one that does. Just over 1 percent of eligible students took advantage of this option in the 2011-12 school year, compared to just over 2 percent in 2010-11.
  • Free tutoring also became less popular during that timeframe. Nearly 11 percent of students nationally opted for those services in 2011-12, compared to 13.6 percent in 2010-11.
  • States are all over the map when it comes to whether or not students are meeting proficiency targets. For instance, when it comes to 4th grade math, the percentage of students meeting state benchmarks ranged from 38 percent (for the Bureau of Indian Education) to 90 percent (for Maryland). Perhaps unsurprisingly, states that most folks think have high standards (such as Massachusetts) had lower proficiency rates for 4th grade math. The Bay State clocked in at just 51 percent.
  • Students in NCLB "subgroups," such as racial minorities, underperformed compared to the student population as a whole in many states. For instance, in California, 69 percent of fourth graders scored at the "proficient" level or higher in math, but just 53 of black students hit that target. And in Pennsylvania, just 42 percent of black students, and 43 percent of Hispanic students scored at the "proficient" level in reading/language arts on the state's high school assessment, compared to 73 percent of white kids.
  • Across the nation, 95.74 percent of classes were taught by highly qualified teachers in 2011-12. The rate was a little lower for some states.For example, in the District of Columbia, nearly 82 percent of classes were lead by an educator who meets the "HQT" benchmark. Importantly, under the waivers, states are beginning to shift from looking at teacher "quality" to teacher "effectiveness" (whether students are actually showing progress on assessments.)
  • There's still a gap, however, between high and low poverty schools when it comes to highly qualified teachers. Highly qualified teachers lead about 94 percent of classes in high-poverty secondary schools, compared to nearly 97 percent of low-poverty secondary schools.
  • Thirty-six states and Puerto Rico had fully approved systems of standards and assessments. That may not matter as much as it used to because the department has plans to revamp its entire system for peer review of state tests, after pausing it in December 2012.

All this matters, because while waivers may disappear at the end of the Obama administration, NCLB is the law of the land, whether it's aggressively enforced or not, until Congress comes up with some kind of a reauthorization.

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