Brad Siegfried | Politicians finally paying attention

With a new school year upon us, it is refreshing to finally have some good news to share with public education advocates in central Pennsylvania.

Say goodbye to “Adequate Yearly Progress,” or AYP.

It seems someone has actually been listening to public school educators about the standardized-testing craze of the past decade.

Since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, educators have been telling politicians that a student’s progress can’t be measured by a single standardized-test score.

Finally, Pennsylvania has joined 40 other states and the District of Columbia and secured a waiver from some NCLB regulations.

This waiver allows Pennsylvania to proceed with the development of a new accountability system based on multiple measures rather than to continue to penalize public schools with Adequate Yearly Progress measures.

For too long, our students and our schools have been struggling to teach to the test, because NCLB mandates that every child in every public school — special education, non-English speakers and even students who just transferred to new schools — must, by the next year, be proficient on a standardized test.

NCLB required that by 2014 every school achieve proficiency with 100 percent of students, which essentially means that every child in every public school would be college ready. This, of course, is an impossible task that even the best schools and best teachers could never meet.

The public schools that didn’t achieve AYP were labeled as failing and faced harsh financial sanctions. The punishments included forcing the districts to pay for additional tutoring or to pay for children to attend other schools.

In the meantime, teachers and administrators did what was asked and taught to the test. To make time for test teaching, many schools were forced to cut back on other subjects, such the arts or music, and some even curtailed recess.

Although Pennsylvania educators are pleased that the AYP nightmare is finally ending, there still remains the question of how schools are supposed to close achievement gaps and improve student achievement and retention after three years of draconian state education funding cuts — totaling almost $1 billion.

Even with the restoration of some funding by the General Assembly in the past two years, education subsidies are almost $700 million short of the resources available in 2010-11.

According to a recent survey of school districts, 70 percent anticipated eliminating programs this year, and more than 50 percent expected larger class sizes. Because of budget cuts, many public schools have been forced to furlough teachers, aides, guidance counselors and librarians and to reduce the arts.

Here’s the bottom line: If politicians want our public schools to improve instruction and to close achievement gaps, they have to recognize that it will require more money.

The state must step up to the plate and restore the state education funding cuts so that class sizes can be reduced and programs restored and so that the 20,000 educators who have been furloughed in the past two years can be returned to the classroom.