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AYP: The Snake in the 'No Child' Woodpile


In the first five years of the No Child Left Behind Act, officials have been primarily focused on implementation issues such as how to manage schools in need of improvement. But author James H. Lytle says one critical element looms in the background: how states should intervene in schools not meeting AYP standards.

Typical state responses such as forming "corrective-action teams" to assess low-performing schools create a façade of intervention, Lytle writes, and there is little evidence to support an effective turnaround strategy. Lytle says the right thing to do is to slow down the sanctions timetable for NCLB and develop a more solid research base for proposed interventions.

What do you think? Should the sanctions timetable for the No Child Left Behind Act be slowed down?


The "Snake in the NCLB Woodpile" article explains why progress is not going very well. The problem involves rearranging the deck chairs, calling for more research, and spending more money to increase delays in taking meaningful action.

It is well-known that people learn by first learning the "What" and then learning the "How" and sometimes learning the "Why." Kids learn to know "what" video games are and do first, and then they learn "how" to use them. From playing games they get a little insight as to "why" they work but realy don't understand why, just that they work so kids and people can have fun.

Learning a language and other subjects is similar; make the connection between the objects and their names, the "what", then learn "how" to use the words, then learn the "Why" and "Where" to use them.

The book "How Stuff Works" is a good example of "what" one needs to be know for everyday living. It tells "What" and then tells "How" things work to be useful. You don't need to know "Why" components of a car or some other things work if they do what you want. Using a can opener, an iPod, etc. doesn't require knowing why they work if they do what you want.

So, let's use video game platforms and similar devices as tools for learning the "what" and "how" to get started and then extend learning to the "why" (math,science, etc). Video game devices are good for all ages; Pre-K and adults alike can and do use them.

Video game platforms cost less than $200, are easy to use, and many are portable so they can be used "Any Time, Any Place, on Any Path, at Any Pace." They can keep score (test) for how well students are learning subjects as they progress thru course material so high-stakes testing can be eliminted. Grade level barriers can be eliminted too.

This approach will show students' progress quickly so teachers can take action immediately rather than wait for periodic or year-end testing. It also will allow learning outside of school buildings and according to a standard so tutors can use the same subject matter materials so everyone is learning the same thing.

2 + 2 = 4 has been in the same in the past, is now and will be in the future. Basics don't change. This idea is fundamental to bringing everyone up to an expected accomplishment or standard for high school graduation.

Regards, Stan Doore

Video game platforms are

There is a "snake in the woodpile". There are actually many snakes. Some are unavoidable in any program that sets sight on reforming a vast network of divergent systems.
The best way to avoid the snakes is to get rid of the woodpile. The "No Child Left Behind Act" is "working", primarily because it is there. School improvement is always occurring, with or without the "Act". There is no real way to determine cause and effect clearly enough to say that any imrpovement is the result of some random law.
The correct thing to do is to actively and regularly work to improve all schools and to stop wasting money and time on intervention teams.

With the reauthorization looming, it is inevitable that there would be voices lining up to say lower the bar, lengthen the timeline, and other variations on let's not do this.

The author points out the lack of research into universal proficiency. Perhaps, but that isn't even our battleground at this point. And frankly, until I see some actual research to substantiate that gaps between ethnic groups are inevitable, I am willing to postulate that all have equal ability. What we are looking at now, is still extreme knowledge gaps that track pretty directly to impoverished students in impoverished schools, discrepancies in knowledge and skill levels of teachers, spending discrepancies in favor of those who already have more, and despite the "sanctions" in the law, these things have moved very little.

As a parent, it's pretty hard to accept that reform efforts MIGHT come about some years after my child's graduation.

While it is true that there is less research than we might wish, there is more than is put to good use. We know that kids don't learn what they aren't taught. Aligning curriculum to standards is a beginning. In my district, I would say that this is still an ongoing battle. Wholesale change implemented rapidly has brought about some scripting, which teachers hate. Using data to move students in early grades flexibly among appropriate reading groups has required teacher collaboration and the sharing of their precious darlings with the other teachers in their school. This is uncomfortable.

The culture of the district (and mine is not unusual) has been to focus on the low-hanging fruit--those kids close to the mark that could be pushed over through the use of practice testing and test prep. Not a bad strategy if it buys time to implement deeper change. Deeper change hasn't come yet. The required plans in schools in trouble have been written and filed. I wouldn't say that they are well-written, useful, or used. Typically some macrodata is used to show that there are problems in either reading or math, in place of response to the problems, the staff fills in whatever program they are already using (whether it relates to the problem or not), gets a PTA mom to sign off that she helped write it, and it goes in the drawer until next year. This is an appropriate response if your belief is that what you are doing is the best that can be done for these kids, and that this too will pass.

There are in fact some significant pieces of research that point toward meaningful reform--some from outside the field of education. We know that kids who don't attend school don't learn. The fields of mental health and social work could provide insight into solutions--but they would have to be invited to the table. Kids with asthma miss more school, and if they are also poor their chance of being identified with a learning disability goes up. Medicine knows much more about managing asthma than gets tranmitted to kids whose treatment is received primarily in the ER.

My district also has available some pretty expensive evaluations by trained outside observers who pointed out not only that classroom practice does not typically include best practices of differentiation, active learning, etc, but that discipline systems are lacking, with uneven expectations, lack of respect for students, etc.

There are certainly good beginning points with research-based strategies that have yet to be implemented. I am continually amazed however, at the ongoing ability of school systems to sabotage every effort. There are actually examples of schools that have embraced reform efforts, and it makes a difference. By contrast, the schools that continue to sing this won't work, nothing ever does, are able to prove themselves right.

Frankly, the sanction that is having the most effect on my district is the availability of charter options for low-income parents. Its a pretty mixed field and there are some very poorly performing charters--but if its a choice between a poorly performing district school and a poorly performing charter, and one is singing "I think I can," while the other is stuck on "this will never work," which would you pick. And with time, some of the charters have proven themselves able.

Teachers are mad and the district is scared. But maybe at last we'll get some change.

I manage all of the NCLB programs for a large urban district. A number of our schools have entered program improvement in the last year soley because the English learner subgroup has not achieved AYP. I believe that our English learners can achieve more at a faster rate, however, we can lengthen to timeline infinitely and we will never reach 100% proficiency in this subgroup in English language arts. The very reason they are in this subgroup is because they are not proficient in English. With the constant wave of immigrants in a state like California, this goal is impossible to achieve.

Alex. A.- former ESOL teacher and Literacy specialist -twenty five years:

It is true that a major part of learning achievement is students who don't know the language. Until schools across the nation prioritize ESOL as a major goal for a non-English speakers we will continue to have a portion of the population that falls behind. I have witnessed a lack of committment, money, time and energy on this issue-seen more as an errant and neglected step-child rather than a force to be considered. Schools should be established to focus on learning the language and to read and write English for half of the day and math and cultural knowledge for the other half until these learners are able to master the language and successfully pass any test.

It is a habitual problem in districts that they send the newest, least experienced and least knowledgeable teachers to schools in poorer sides of town. They also receive less funding, have poorer facilities, and poor books and equipment.
Schools need to be held accountable or this subtle and often unconscious form of institutional racism will never be brought to light.

Fear and anxiety are the major results of the NCLB Act. Fear and anxiety at all levels. Schools are desperately working to meet standards that are impossible to reach. 100% proficiency in 2014. No matter how hard they work, this goal can never be reached.

In the mean time, in order to make adequate yearly progress, the classrooms of this nation have become little test obsessed environments. This is causing test anxiety in children, teachers, administrators and parents.

The major learning that is taking place is information based. It is like cramming for a exam everyday of your school life. Some may believe this is education, but education is really so much more, and students are actually capable of thinking. Information based education is a dumbing down of the system. Write your congressmen and let them know that children are human beings not computers. Do we really want to make children into little computers of information? How does all this testing narrow gap? That is the blanket over which schools and teachers are forced to accept the terms of the NCLB Act. Who could argue with that? We must narrow the gap. Of course, we must narrow the gap! We must narrow the gap by having smaller class size, adequate supplies, and teachers who inspire students to want to learn, and administrators who support their teachers and don't make the school the battle grounds they have become under the NCLB ACT.

Of course the measurement of AYP is deeply flawed in the details. A few here have mentioned ESL students alongside issues of poverty (Title I populations), but I will ad that Learning Disabled students also take a hit. What happens when you have several subgroups at one school site is that you are sometimes double or triple counted (of course, unfavorably).

The very nature of a student being in an ESL class, should automatically exempt their English scores from being counted toward AYP. Another measure could be put in place, such as one ESL level of growth every two years, which would comply with the general consensus among teachers of ESL that this is adequate progress (allowing for flexibility of learning rates in human beings) in the program (we in Los Angeles use a five-level system).

It is currently politically expedient for politicians to say that poverty should not be an "excuse" for student low achievement. I submit that it is a reality that cannot be readily swept under the rug. The parents of my students are working - both of them, and sometimes single parenting, while holding two or three jobs. This is not so they can afford the Beemer. This is to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. This leaves our students to parent themselves - or seek surrogates in their teachers. I have seen my students progressively become less and less focussed in the classroom due to lack of supervision at home. I'm talking about 4th graders who are staying up until 2:00am watching television, walk home from school to an empty house, parenting younger siblings, and living in extremely crowded conditions - sometimes three families to a two bedroom house. Poverty matters, and it is not an excuse. America needs to wake up to this growing problem. It won't go away by itself.

Our learning disabled students are also counted in AYP. Any teacher who has worked extensively with learning disabled students knows that we can certainly educate all of our kids. Nobody is looking to deny our students the best education we can possibly give them. What many don't know is that because of the LD label, schools are beginning to deny services as a matter of course to students who need them because our percentage of tested students with accommodations will go up, thus lowering our fully tested percentage (the one that "counts" for NCLB). We also must face the facts that some learning disabilities preclude the ability for some students to work at grade level. Of course, I have to be careful here not to give the impression that I am just another person who wants to "give up" on our LD population. Again, reality check. If only those who would say this is just "dumbing down" the curriculum could be FORCED to watch a frustrated, weeping, learning disabled child sit for one of these tests they might have a change of heart.

Perhaps the ultimate price that will be paid by America for NCLB will be the loss of even more teachers. I know of five teachers from a school of 40 right now that are seriously considering leaving the classroom. These are not rookies, either. These are our best and brightest. The atmosphere at our school has become unbearable with the "suits" walking into our classrooms at any time, disrupting our lessons, distracting our already highly distracted students, and being constantly asked to justify every little thing we do. Many of us have had enough. We love our students, but our sanity must come first.

Clearly AYP has some fatal flaws, not least of which is that punitive systems tend to get results for a while, but eventually break down once the punished realize the injustice and oppression they are living with is untenable. The triple-counting of subgroups is just one of the failed elements of NCLB. The ultimate sacrifice will be some of America's best teachers choosing not to teach.

Dr. Lytle should be commended for his insightful article. As a semi-retired 76 year old educator, I have been concerned with flaws in the NCLB law--it ignores ample research on the importance of the preschool years--the Federal Government should be earmarking billions to help new parents and their babies to get off to a good start so they will NOT be "left behind" when in public schools. Brain development from birth to age 5 is critical to success in school.The Ed Dept & Congress should invite Ellen Galinsky, co-President of the Families and Work Institute in NYC to re-write the law and then earmark $$$$ for the birth to age 5 cohort!

What kind of snake is it?
The recent article by Mr. James Lytle clearly points out what many public educators have been quietly talking about for several years. OK, as each year goes by and the "acceptable levels" rise, won't it be next to impossible to have every child in every school in every State Proficient or Advanced by 2014? Can we realistically expect our kid's abilities to rise as the government's manufactured numbers rise and therein keep up with AYP every year through 2014?
Mr. Lytle details that the number of schools in need of improvement or that need corrective action is steadily rising. Even knowing the Feds, States and local School Districts are making generous accomodations regularly.
Mandating the 100% AYP goal be attained by 2014 is akin to passing a law that states by 2014 unemployment must be 0.0%. A noble goal, but absolutely unreachable as currently written. Imagine the myriad of variables that would need to fall in place for the U. S. unemployment rate to reach 0.0% in 8 years? Just try to imagine or try to compute what transactional costs it would take to make unemployment disappear? We, in public education, face the same challenge by 2014.
Politicians must realize educators are still not quite sure if that snake in the woodpile is poisonous with fangs out or purposely put there to keep the woodpile free from unnecessary rodents.
The decisions they make in the very near future could create a venomous creature in that woodpile or a snake that is actually helping public educators provide worthwhile skills and a meaningful education to the students attending our schools (and hopefully reach the 2014 AYP goal?).
Mr. Lytle's suggestions deserve more than a passing consideration.

Kurt Lundgren
Assistant Principal
Ocean Bay Middle School
Myrtle Beach, SC
843 903-8429
[email protected]

Jim Lytle's February 7 Commentary, "The Snake in the No Child Left Behind Woodpile" clearly identifies a fundamental flaw in the NCLB legislation: reliance on the big-stick while offering few, if any, carrots. Under NCLB, schools are threatened with sanctions if performance doesn't measure up to standards. Rarely however, are schools encouraged and supported to do what Lytle calls the "deep work" of re-imagining the process of schooling. Indeed, Lytle proposes that we lack a deep knowledge base that can help schools to reach the ultimate goal of NCLB--that all children will learn. How then can we hold schools accountable for meeting the goals of NCLB when we lack the knowledge base to help them reach those goals?

Some dozen years ago, Kenneth Wilson and Bennett Daviss(Redesigning Education, TC Press, l994)noted that the research base in education is rarely consulted in attempts at educational improvement. The authors consider educational research and development akin to "a cottage industry of lone tinkerers" wherein there is little attempt to connect proposals for school improvement to any relevant knowledge base. Indeed, such has been the case with NCLB, whose reforms are based largely on a business model of accountability--produce results or die. Lacking is any clear evidence pertaining to whether such a model has been successful in educational settings, especially when considering the multitude of factors which effect the learning of students whose backgrounds are substantially diverse.

As an attempt at large-scale educational change, NCLB is a failure. It is based on beating down schools until they comply, and does not have an applicable research base to support its essential premises. Is it any wonder that we have(again) another "grand experiment," full of false assumptions, and methodically grinding away the culture of schools and the lives of those whom schools are designed to help?

I just returned from a special education convention in San Francisco, and listened to teachers spell out their difficulties with the NCLB Act. All children are definitely not at the same level, and no matter what we do they will never be at the same level. Special education students are being asked to perform at standards not appropriate for them, and expecting results that can't happen. Putting sanctions on schools where special education students were measured with all students is not only an ignorant position, but a desceptively destructive manner of condemning public schools. There is a great corporate move to take over the public system. This is presented as a 21st Century need, however it does not present a complete vision for children that is realistic with childhood at all.
It has a management model for success and children are too smart to buy into that and already they are becoming unmotivated and dropping out, plus burning out at young ages. Test anxiety has taken over the classroom. I was just listening to the governors conference on Cspan, and heard talk of getting rid of school boards because they are not informed about the needs of the 21st Century. Next they will perhaps get rid of parents, because they too are not informed of the needs of the 21st Century.
What are the needs of the 21st Century in this country? Be willing to work for minimum wage and willing to serve in the military? I'm afraid that is what high school students are seeing, thus becoming dropouts. The students in this country are as capable as any students in the world. They are just not buying the system as presented to them in the past years under the NCLB Act. They know that many students who attend the university, are working at minimum wage jobs and can't pay their student loans. High school students are much more informed than we realize in street smarts, although they may not know detailed information that they don't pay attention to because in this information age they can get that information any time they need it online.
The strict standards narrow the thinking. They dumb down the teaching, so that everybody know limited information. That is not what made this country great! What made this country great was freedom of thought!

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Recent Comments

  • Deanna Enos Author Nobody Left Behind - One Child's Story About Testing: I just returned from a special education convention in San read more
  • Robert Everhart, Professor Emeritus, Portland St. Univ., Portland. Oregon: Jim Lytle's February 7 Commentary, "The Snake in the No read more
  • Kurt Lundgren Assistant Principal Ocean Bay Middle School Myrtle Beach, SC: What kind of snake is it? The recent article by read more
  • Dr. Richard Goodman: Dr. Lytle should be commended for his insightful article. As read more
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