An editorial published in the Aug. 9 edition of The Outlook encouraged parents to all but dismiss Oregon's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) release under the No Child Left Behind Act. That, I believe, would do a real disservice to the students of Oregon's public schools.
Oregon sets the standards for AYP and works with local schools and districts to help them achieve them. Oregon and its educators define what a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade student should know. And Oregon designs the assessments to measure whether those standards are being met.
Rather than mask academic performance, NCLB breaks down the walls that once hid entire groups of students. No Child Left Behind has shone a bright light on students in need of focused and intensive academic instruction. Educators now have new information to direct scarce resources toward improved results. And Title I school parents have more information and options, including free tutoring or transfer to better performing public schools.
Long before NCLB, Oregon set strong standards for student achievement and made a serious commitment to reform. Oregon is now moving forward to enhance that reform with added accountability and choices for parents. I am pleased to say that the push is showing strong results.
State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo has announced that the most recent state test scores continue to show progress by minority and low-income students in closing the achievement gap, especially among the state's eighth-graders. In reading, math and science, Native American, African-American, Hispanic and migrant students generally outperformed the state average. 'Closing the achievement gap is a moral obligation, and I'm calling on every teacher, parent, business and community leader to lend a hand in this effort,' she said.
We agree. Nationwide, the data shows that our older students are not making the same kind of progress. International tests show them slipping relative to the developed world. Three in 10 ninth-graders, and about half of African American and Hispanic students, do not even make it to graduation day. The one million school dropouts each year cost themselves and the nation more than $260 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes.
Rather than eliminate annual assessments, we should expand them to include middle- and high-school students. President Bush has proposed a High School Reform Initiative worth $1.475 billion in fiscal year 2007 to hold high schools accountable for providing a quality education to all students. It would support targeted interventions to improve the academic performance of students who have fallen behind in reading or math, putting them at risk of dropping out.
Another critical element of reform is stronger coursework. Studies show a lack of challenging coursework to be a top reason cited by students for dropping out. Unfortunately, just one state - Alabama - required four years of math and science to graduate last year. Less than two-thirds of high schools offer advanced placement courses.
President Bush's proposed $5.9 billion American Competitiveness Initiative would train 70,000 additional teachers to lead advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses over the next five years, tripling the number of potential test-takers. A new Adjunct Teacher Corps would encourage 30,000 scientists, engineers and other professionals to serve their communities as math and science teachers.
Just last week, we awarded the Oregon Department of Education a $460,000 grant to boost the participation of low-income students in advanced placement courses and tests, one of 33 such grants totaling $17 million across the country.
Change isn't easy, but the assessments you decry help us identify and meet the academic needs of our students. It is one more tool in our effort to provide a quality education for all.