The admirable goal of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation is for 100 percent of the students in America to be proficient in English and math by 2014. Not as admirable is the unfairness of the way the performance of each state's students is determined under NCLB.
Under NCLB, each state is allowed to define "proficient" itself, and some have set higher achievement standards than others.
In Missouri, "proficient" means students actually perform ahead of their grade level. Using that standard, half the school districts in Missouri did not make adequate progress in 2003 under NCLB.
This inequality sets Missouri school districts up to fail the federal NCLB requirements. Districts that fail to make adequate yearly progress two years in a row must design a plan for improving their instruction. Parents of students attending the school have the option of sending their children to a school in another district.
State Sen. Gary Nodler of Joplin and state Rep. Maynard Wallace of Thornfield are sponsoring bills that would bring the state and national standards in line with each other.
The bills have backing from educators. The sponsors say they are not interested in lowering the state's standards, only in making the testing more equitable.
Currently, third- and seventh-graders take communication arts and science tests. Fourth- and eighth-graders take math and social studies tests. Tenth-graders take science and math tests. Eleventh-graders take communication arts and social studies tests. Fifth- and sixth-graders take a health test.
Beginning in the spring of 2006, NCLB requires all students in grades three through eight to take the communications arts and math tests. This will require a revamp of the MAP testing system, since certain tests are not currently available for all grades.
State officials also hope to make "adequate yearly progress" part of each school's accreditation requirements starting in 2006.
Last December, federal standards were softened for the most severely disabled students, who can represent no more than 1 percent of any one grade in a school district. They can take an alternative test that gives districts more of a chance at measuring up to the NCLB benchmark.
But teachers say many other special education students still have no chance of passing a MAP test.
The state legislation does not address this situation, but it does try to put Missouri's students on an equal footing with those of other states.
If no child is to be left behind, all children should have an equal chance.