The Iowa Department of Education’s annual report card on schools and their progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law shows more schools failing to meet the standards, but the director of the department says the arbitrary nature of the law doesn’t give an adequate picture of what’s really happening.

Jay Pennington, the chief data analyst for the department, says the number of schools failing to hit the mark for “Adequate Yearly Progress” increased as the standards got tougher. “The report shows that 869 of the 1,361 public schools — or roughly 64-percent of schools missed AYP — either for test participation or proficiency in reading and mathematics 2012-13 school year,”  Pennington says. That compares to 52-percent of the schools which missed the AYP standard the previous year.

There are also more schools categorized as being “in need of assistance” under the federal guidelines. “Forty-one of the 348 Iowa school districts, or 11.8-percent were identified as districts in need of assistance for the 13-14 school year,” Pennington says. “This is up from the 28 of the 351 school districts — or roughly eight percent — that were identified in the year before.”  The report says 84 school districts out of 348 are listed as in need of assistance, compared to 48 of 351 districts the previous year.

Education Department director, Brad Buck, says there are some good things that have come out of the No Child Left Behind law. “We better understand the accountability, and we not only understand it, but appreciate it. I think we got a lot more serious about serving all students — and especially those students with traditional barriers to learning. More focused on sort of the pieces it will take to make that happen,” Buck says.

But, he says the law is misguided in no recognizing that students come with different starting points. “Even in those districts that are making great progress with the learning of their students, if they are in the well to start with — we used to have this phrase if they were in the well to start with — event though they were demonstrating growth, they were still in the well. They didn’t get to those proficiency targets, so there was this great undercurrent of what all this means, so it feels arbitrary in how it works out.”

Buck says there can be pockets of students who aren’t doing as well and they can impact the overall district’s assessment under these standards. He says the department believes in accountability and that’s why it supported the education reform legislation that past in the last legislative session.

You can the report card on your school here: 2013 State Report Card PDF