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No Child Left Behind too inflexible, Lakeville superintendent tells congressional panel

WASHINGTON — A Minnesota superintendent today told a House committee that the next education authorization bill should provide more flexibility for local districts, while shifting the standard by which schools are judged from how much kids know to how much they learn in a year.

“I believe in accountability, and I believe in opportunities for all students to achieve academic success,” said Gary Amoroso, superintendent of Lakeville Area Public Schools, but it’s a problem that the No Child Left Behind measures schools on just one metric — a standardized test that looks at only reading and mathematics.

Lakeville is the home school district of John Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, whose committee is charged with developing a follow-up bill to No Child Left Behind. And it was in front of that panel Amoroso testified, in a hearing on local control.

Amoroso has been superintendent of the 11,000-student Lakeville Area Public Schools since 2001 and will take over as head of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators in July.

In Lakeville, Amoroso said they measure academic progress using a diagnostic test in fall to see where students are academically and predict where they ought to be academically in the spring. Another assessment is done in winter to see where those students are at. Data from that second test are then used to augment instruction for the spring.

In contrast, state testing results from the spring aren’t available until fall, Amoroso said, and by then summer is over, lesson plans have been draw up and the next school year has begun and thus the new data don’t “inform our decision making.”

Kline and the panel’s top Democrat, George Miller, agreed that it seems like House legislation will look to move toward a “growth model” for evaluation, based not on how much students know, compared with a standard, but on how much they learn year-to-year.

Amoroso said such a move could have saved a program that was working in Lakeville, but it was cut for lack of funds.

“In one Lakeville school, for example, math instruction was restructured through additional staff time and professional development to meet the needs of struggling [English language learner] students and resulted in significant gains in achievement,” Amoroso said. “Under the current accountability model, the school retained the label of a failing school and was unable to continue this program due to funding restrictions.”

Details on that growth model are still being discussed; however, Kline expressed cautious optimism that the committee would begin considering legislation in the near future, possibly within a month.

Among the questions: What will be measured? What will be the federal government’s role in setting the standards (as opposed to states or local school districts)? Who pays for it all, and where does the balance come between allowing schools to experiment and reining in schools that persistently fail?

“Obviously we need accountability,” Kline said, “but the question is of what to whom?”

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