By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
State educator organizations and school administrators are questioning the effectiveness of the No Child Left Behind Act after a majority of Texas school districts failed to meet federal accountability standards.
According to a report by the Texas Education Agency, more than 70 percent of the state's public and charter school districts failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, standards as required under the Act for the 2011-12 school year.
Locally, school districts in Central Texas followed a similar trend. Twenty-seven out of 46 Killeen Independent School District campuses, including all four high schools and eight of its 11 middle schools, failed to meet the federal standards. Six of the 10 campuses in the Copperas Cove School District also failed to make AYP.
According to reports from the agency, the Killeen, Temple, Belton and Florence school districts all failed to make AYP as well, with only Salado and Lampasas districts actually meeting the standards.
The failure of districts like Killeen and Cove to hit federal accountability targets comes despite the fact that those same districts, and some of their campuses, garnered favorable ratings from the state's own accountability rating system.
Both Killeen and Copperas Cove earned a "recognized" status from the state for the 2010-11 school year, and the Belton, Temple and Florence districts received an "academically acceptable" rating.
"I anticipated that there would be some difficulty, because of the disconnect between the federal accountability system and the state accountability system," said Robert Muller, Killeen's superintendent.
Deann Lee, president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, pointed to that "disconnect" as one of the many failings of No Child Left Behind.
"NCLB is absolutely not an effective way to measure the success of a school district," Lee said. "What we are seeing is a very clear demonstration of why Washington shouldn't interfere with local education decisions."
Lee said much of the difference between the state accountability system and the federal AYP requirement was a result of how districts were measured.
For instance, the percentage of students who need to meet proficiency targets for AYP increases each year. For the 2011-12 school year, 87 percent of Texas students needed to hit proficiency targets in reading/language arts, and 83 percent had to be proficient in math. Those standards were increased by seven to eight percentage points from the previous year.
For the upcoming 2012-13 school year, those numbers will be bumped up to 93 percent for reading/language arts, and 92 percent for math. Those requirements will increase to 100 percent by the 2013-14 school year.
In addition, AYP also requires districts and schools to hit proficiency targets for seven sub-groups of students, and takes into account test participation rates, attendance and graduation rates. If a district does not meet the requirements for any of those groups, it fails to make AYP.
It is extremely punitive, and it does not reward or encourage districts who have made progress from one year to the next," Lee said.
Seeking a solution
When it comes to finding a solution, both Lee and Muller suggested revamping the federal accountability system, and tackling the problems inherent to No Child Left Behind.
"I think our state leaders need to work with the federal government to align the systems," Muller said. "I'd like to see a situation where there is an alignment, and we don't have two completely different systems."
"We need to address the problems in NCLB and have a system that is more flexible, reasonable and has much more room for local and state decision making," she said.
However, Lee was skeptical of lawmakers in Washington's ability to fix the perceived flaws in NCLB. The federal education law, of which NCLB is a part, has been due for congressional reauthorization since 2007, but is stalled due to congressional gridlock.
"Unfortunately Congress has been unable to put politics aside and do what's best for students," Lee said. "At this point they're more concerned with elections then trying to give our children a better education."
Lee and the association are strongly in favor of the state seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, which allows states to opt out of No Child Left Behind.
Since the waivers were introduced by the department in 2010, 33 states and the District of Columbia have been granted such waivers.
Texas, however, is one of a dozen states that has not sought a waiver.
Suzanne Marchman, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency, said the state has declined to seek a waiver because of certain requirements from the federal government, some of which might conflict with the state's own education laws.
"Those waivers come with strings attached, which is why we are hesitant to seek one at this point," Marchman said.
Marchman also said the agency initially asked the department for a waiver because the state was making the switch to a new accountability test, but it was denied.
Lee argued that Texas' accountability rating system and standards already meet many of the requirements to obtain a waiver, and called on Gov. Rick Perry to initiate the waiver process.
According to the department's guidelines, the governor must initiate the application for a waiver.
"The benefit for Texas students far outweighs any strings attached," Lee said. "Until the governor asks for a waiver, more than five million Texas students will continue to suffer under No Child Left Behind."
Perry's office did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
While the battle to find a solution to the problem continues, districts like Muller's are left trying to explain and cope with current system.
Despite the federal ratings, Muller said he was confident of his district's ability to educate its students.
"We have effective learning going on, and the district is very focused on providing quality education to all our students," Muller said. "I think there is evidence to support that we are delivering for our students."
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.
Progress reports for Killeen ISD and Copperas Cove ISD can be found at