When the landmark federal education law known as No Child Left Behind was first signed into law in 2001, opponents predicted that the high standards mandated by the law would eventually lead to all public schools being classified as "failing."
But five years later, preliminary results from Oregon schools suggest that those dire forecasts might have been premature. According to data released by the Oregon Department of Education, students at 811 Oregon schools made enough progress last year to hit the targets set out by the federal law, an increase of more than 100 schools from 2005.
That's still just 66 percent of the state's public schools, but state education officials are nonetheless heartened by this year's results, which showed slight improvements even in areas that traditionally underperform, such as high schools.
No Child Left Behind requires schools to bring increasing percentages of students up to grade level on reading and math tests. In Oregon this year, it's 50 percent of students in reading and 49 percent in math. That will jump to 60 percent for the 2007-2008 school year, potentially increasing the number of schools that miss testing goals. By 2014, 100 percent of students must be at or above grade level.
Federally funded schools that repeatedly fail to meet testing goals, as well as required attendance or graduation levels, face sanctions starting with paying for after-school tutoring and escalating to a top-to-bottom reorganization.
Schools can be placed on the "needing improvement" list if a single subgroup of students — such as the poor, the learning disabled or students still learning to speak English — missed the testing goals.
For most schools, being placed on the "needs improvement" list is no more than an embarrassing headline. Only schools that receive Title I federal funding, which is targeted for high-poverty schools, face the consequences of the law. Forty-seven such schools in Oregon didn't meet testing goals in the same subject for the second straight year — up from 44 in 2005. The bulk of them are in Portland, Salem and Woodburn.
But state education officials also point to Title I schools as some of the biggest success stories: 55 percent of high schools that get Title I funding met testing goals in 2006, for example, compared with 23 percent of non-Title I high schools, for example.
Gene Evans, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Education, said Title I schools may do better because they get extra funding to help address students' weak spots. Those schools also have an added nudge, he said, because they know that consequences are hanging over them.
— The Associated Press