Common Sense Left Behind

Thursday, October 16, 2008

IT'S LITTLE wonder that the No Child Left Behind law, its overall benefits notwithstanding, gets such a bad rap. Just consider the mindless way some of its rules get interpreted -- case in point being the experience of a Montgomery County school punished because of unavoidable absences by its students, many of whom have severe disabilities. If Maryland officials don't realize how silly the situation is, federal education officials need to apply some common sense.

This year, Stephen Knolls School reached student achievement goals for math and reading but failed to make annual yearly progress under NCLB because of poor attendance. As The Post's Daniel de Vise reported, the Kensington school serves students with profound disabilities and serious medical problems. The more frequent absences stem from the very fragile state of these children's health. Among the cases cited by Mr. de Vise was a boy who was out of school for more than 80 days before dying in January.

State education officials were not sympathetic to Montgomery's appeal for an exception, noting that other school districts are able to work around the system by counting the students not in the special education centers they attend but in their neighborhood schools. That's not exactly in keeping with NCLB's creed of accountability; parents of the children who attend Stephen Knolls have a right to know how good a job the school is doing in meeting federal goals. And, indeed, it appears the school is making progress, having raised test scores after two years of poor performance.

Stephen Knolls is not the first school to face this dilemma, as evidenced by the experience last year of Rock Creek School in Frederick County. What's different is that Montgomery chose to appeal the designation and, we hope, in calling needed attention to the situation, it can force a solution.

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