Our View: The children were left behind

Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 5:31 a.m. CDT

The most frustrating aspect of the unnecessary two-year legal battle that St. Charles School District 303 has put the community through is that the educational paths of students who most needed help were irrevocably interrupted.

At the root of this issue is the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which demands 100 percent of schoolchildren be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Using several factors – including performance on standardized tests – students are measured by grade level and subgroups including gender, race, special needs and socioeconomic status.

Each year, a higher number of students must meet proficiency benchmarks, called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. One subgroup that doesn’t means an entire school and district fails, and improvements must be implemented. Improvements grow in severity the longer a school doesn’t meet AYP.

District 303’s saga started in 2011, when the school board voted to make Davis a K-2 school and Richmond third through fifth grades. Both had been K-5 schools. The district said it was a facilities issue, as Richmond was underused and Davis overcrowded.

Richmond had not made AYP for years and was mandated to make significant changes – including offering the choice for parents to enroll their children in other district schools, which more than 100 did.

By changing the grade levels, the state let the district roll back Richmond’s status to having not met AYP to just one year, so the district didn’t have to make as many improvements.

Parents filed a lawsuit in 2011, alleging the district circumvented the federal act.

Last week, a judge agreed and ruled the move was done to get around having to address Richmond’s lack of academic progress. The ruling noted the district’s plan didn’t include strategies to help the struggling subgroups, which have continued to not meet AYP since 2011.

It is regrettable that school districts have to follow so many federal and state mandates, often with little-to-no funding to implement them. And we share the frustration No Child Left Behind has wrought: While it was an admirable goal, it is unrealistic, singles out students who least need added pressure and slaps what amounts to a “failure” label on them.

But it’s law. It must be followed. The district’s failure to do so has harmed the education of its students, and wasted taxpayer dollars – estimated by one school board member to be about $225,000 – defending its actions.

We encourage the district and school board to follow the court mandate of developing within six months a revised plan for the Davis-Richmond school buildings. Attend all court hearings, meet all mandates from the court and the federal law, and solicit input from parents. When making future decisions, it must remember this leadership failure and do better for the community it represents.

And most of all, district leaders must ensure the kids who need help get it it. Because they have lost the most throughout this debacle.