Faced with the fear of failing, some school systems cooked the books, changed the answers on tests or cheated. Others took time from teaching subjects to teaching to the test, which in itself is not bad if the test is a good one. However, there was seldom much consensus on that point.
Teachers, administrators and state departments of education complained. With deadlines looming and test scores coming in below expectations, governors and legislators finally began seeking waivers so they would have more time to reach federally mandated standards.
Alabama just received one.
The U.S. Department of Education agreed last week to let Alabama freeze the AYP requirements at the 2011 level; in reading, those standards required 88 percent of third-graders to read at grade level instead of increasing to 92 percent this year. That jump would have dropped a number of schools into the “failing” category — a designation that, in more than a few cases, was earned because the test scores of special-education students were counted with the rest.
The freeze is only for one year, and in 2013 the requirement increases to 96 percent. For many schools, that will be a tough mark to reach.
NCLB has been an expensive experiment, even though it never received the funds it needed. It set unrealistic goals, put undue pressure on teachers and students, created administrative headaches for principals and superintendents, and gave rise to an additional layer of bureaucracy.
Now, Alabama wants to try something else, a plan known as the “growth model.” That plan tracks how much improvement a student makes each year, rather than rating schools based on what a class did on a standardized test. Based on this and other efforts to improve standards, Alabama joined 25 other states that have been given waivers.
The “growth model” appears to this page a much better way to measure student progress. We applaud this effort.
Meanwhile, as the state gets some much-needed breathing space, it would be good if the Alabama congressional delegation pushes to get NCLB rewritten into a more reasonable approach to measuring student progress. Alabama’s “growth model” plan would be an excellent place to start.