Mar 082004
Authors: Jason Kosena

By Jason Kosena

Lynette Slazman walks the halls of Irish Elementary School every day, surveying a school she believes succeeds.

Salzman, Irish’s principal, knows her teachers like to teach and that they try their best to reach every child. She knows Irish’s students work hard to succeed, no matter the disadvantages or handicaps that may hinder their work.

Because of those qualified professionals and the lovable students, Salzman is devoted to her job. She enjoys the rewards of working in such close proximity to greatness and its vision of the future.

So, when Salzman looks at President Bush’s federal education mandate — the No Child Left Behind Act – and its battery of tests and standards, she sees not a hindrance to be overcome, but a challenge to be embraced.

The NCLB test data can help Irish target which students need specific help.

“Instruction is now really focused,” she said. “Standards have really helped us focus on what and how we are going to teach.”

Irish is one of two schools in Poudre School District receiving school-wide funding from the federal government.

Because the penalties of NCLB only reach schools receiving federal funding, Irish is a good example of a school under pressure to meet its requirements. It may not be easy for Irish though.

According to the Colorado Schools Accountability Report released in early December, Irish is a “low” rating school, which has declined in performance from 2002 to 2003.

Salzman, however, believes there is more to education than just one set of numbers and wants to help parents better understand the quality education happening at Irish.

“I invite all parents of children to come and see the education and instruction their child is getting every day (here at Irish),” Salzman said. “There are some factors that are beyond our control and beyond the school’s control that influence the school’s grade.”

The NCLB mandate emphasizes accountability in schools by making the conditions upon which a school receives federal funding dependant upon meeting academic requirements set by the federal government.

Schools meet these academic requirements by administering a state test to students and by holding schools accountable for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the scores its students receive.

The design of AYP requirements in the legislation is to ensure every student in America’s public school system is testing at a proficient grade level by 2014, thus ensuring “no child is left behind.”

Many educators in school districts are finding a give-and-take relationship with NCLB and its guidelines. Educators see higher school accountability as a good thing and believe data obtained through the testing can lead to positive changes in narrowing the test-score gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. But the requirements of AYP have opponents and the sanctions placed on schools that do not meet the accountability standards are being put into question.

Adequate Yearly Progress

AYP is one way to measure how schools are performing by looking at their test scores in terms of reaching statewide targets. This assessment is made by looking at the population of each school as a whole, and also at subgroups within that population, said Alyssa Pearson, Title I senior coordinator for the Colorado Department of Education.

Classifications determining the subgroups include ethnicity, grade level, students for whom English is a second language and special needs children. Under NCLB every subgroup within a school must meet the AYP requirements. If just one subgroup within a school misses the mark, then the entire school misses the mark, Pearson said (see sidebar).

Ninety-five percent of all the children in each subgroup of a school’s population must take the annual test, and a given percentage of those students tested must pass at grade-level proficiency in order for a school to make AYP.

Every year, NCLB requires a higher percentage of students in each subgroup to pass the grade level proficiency test. The expected percentage increases each year until 2014 when NCLB states every child in America must be at grade-level proficiency in reading and in math, despite learning disabilities, mental retardation or no skills in the English language.

“It’s hard because Adequate Yearly Progress is such a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Either a school makes it or they don’t, and I am sure this aspect will be confusing to parents,” Pearson said. “I am sure there are going to be plenty of schools that do not make AYP, yet are good schools.”

This either/or quality of NCLB is one major flaw in the legislation, said Evelyn Jacobi, the Title I coordinator for Poudre School District. Because NCLB is an all-or-nothing proposition, Jacobi believes there is a real possibility for good schools to be labeled otherwise.

“If a family suddenly moved to Japan and their kids were forced to take a test in Japanese, and they didn’t pass, under the guidelines of No Child Left Behind, the entire school would fail,” Jacobi said. “How many years would it take for that child to test ‘proficient’ in a Japanese school? This type of (proficiency) testing does not mark a child’s ability or intelligence.”

Students who start a year at a given school but do not finish out the year in the same school can affect a teacher’s ability to teach.

April Albers, a third grade teacher who teaches bilingual students at Irish, works with students who have limited English proficiency. She believes children who move around a lot are already disadvantaged because academic curriculum may be different from one school to the next.

Because there are no national or state standards for grade level curriculum, if a student leaves one school in the middle of the academic school year, there is no way to ensure he or she will continue that same curriculum path at their next school.

This can have an effect on test scores.

“Every year, I have a goal that I can see my kids getting at (academically),” Albers said. “How can we get those kids up to speed who have missed all the earlier work from the year? This is the biggest concern for me as a teacher.”

Anjetta McQueen, spokesperson for the National Education Association said that adequate yearly progress section of the NCLB legislation is a concern for the NEA.

“Let’s say there is a special needs child or a (student for whom English is a second language), that in a period of a year makes a significant leap in improvement, from say 20 percent proficient to 65 percent proficient. That is big progress, especially when compared to a normal child who goes from 65 percent proficient to 75 percent,” McQueen said.

McQueen emphasizes the special needs child who made significant progress in a period of a year, but under NCLB, the child is still looked at as not making AYP despite making much more progress than the child who grew from 65 percent to 75 percent.

Jacobi believes a problem with the AYP section is that a community may place a label on a school primarily based on whether or not it reaches the requirements. AYP does not explain to parents how individual students are making progress or achievement; it just gives a blanket label of success or failure.

Despite her concerns, Jacobi also believes AYP requirements have some advantages for PVS. For example, each school in the district receives detailed information on the subgroups within their population. From this data, school staffs are better able to apply resources to the groups of children who are not meeting the proficient mark.

Pearson agrees: “People for the first time are really beginning to see the groups of kids who have been falling behind. The focus on these kids is a big advantage of testing subgroups for adequate yearly progress.”

Highly Qualified Teachers

No Child Left Behind requires schools to only employ teachers who are highly qualified in the subject they are teaching. This requires teachers to meet requirements indicating they are qualified to teach a given subject.

Bush White, Title II coordinator for the Colorado Department of Education, said requiring this expertise in teachers is important to the betterment of public education in Colorado. He also said he does not believe this aspect will have a significant impact on Colorado schools.

“The highly qualified teacher provision applies to the core subjects: English, mathematics, sciences, social studies and the arts,” White said. “I believe, however, that most schools and school districts already do this. There are few schools out there who are going to hire a teacher with an art degree to teach nuclear physics.”

Elementary school teachers in the state of Colorado reach the NCLB requirements as a result of their elementary education course work. However, middle school and high school teachers need to have a four-year degree or pass a proficiency test in the subject area they are teaching to be considered “highly qualified.”

Poudre Valley Schools is close to meeting this requirement of NCLB according to Jacobi. Because Fort Collins is located in the general proximity of such good teaching schools, like the ones found at CSU and University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, teachers in PVS are all highly qualified.

“We are fortunate because we have a highly qualified staff already. As a district, we have very few (teachers) who do not meet the requirements,” Jacobi said.

White said the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements of NCLB will not have much effect on larger school districts because of the number of staff they employ. If one teacher is not qualified to teach a math class anymore, then someone else on staff who is qualified can fill in.

“It has the potential to create some problems in smaller school districts. These districts may have difficulty filling some of the positions left open by teachers. It may be hard for these districts to attract some good teachers,” White said.

Despite the 2006 deadline the Colorado Department of Education is going to work with school districts to achieve the goal. It will never come to a point when there are classrooms without teachers, White said.

The Sanctions

NCLB is education legislation requiring accountability. NCLB’s authors wanted to ensure this accountability would be met, so they included a series of sanctions to be placed on schools if they do not meet the accountability standards. If a school fails to make AYP for two consecutive years, the sanctions will begin.

“If a school doesn’t continually meet the requirements then, we the state, can take corrective action,” Brad Bylsma, the senior consultant for Title I Programs for the Colorado Department of Education. “If (a school) is receiving (federal funding) the state or state agency can hold funds from the school (being sanctioned).”

However, Bylsma said the stripping of funds from the school is a “last straw,” which comes after a series of intermediate steps is taken. A school can only be sanctioned if it receives funding from the federal government. “To whom more is given, more is expected,” said Bylsma in reference to schools receiving federal funds.

The first corrective step taken after a school misses AYP for two consecutive years is an offer to parents to bus their children out of the current school, which is not making AYP, to a school in the same district meeting the yearly requirements. The cost of busing these children would come from the federal funding the district is already receiving.

The students whose parents decide not to change schools will be offered supplemental services, including after-school and one-on-one tutoring programs for students who are not testing proficient, Bylsma said.

Salzman, the principle of Irish Elementary in Fort Collins, believes busing students to another school is an ineffective solution.

“I don’t feel that (busing kids) is going to help anyone, anywhere. It won’t help the kids, the staff or the school,” Salzman said. “It will cause people to believe that the instruction at one school is better than the instruction at another, and that is just not true.”

If these options are implemented and the school still does not meet the requirements of NCLB, then a number of different corrective options become available. These options include restructuring of the school staff, implementing a new curriculum based upon scientific research, extending the length of the school day or year, to list a few.

If the school still fails to meet the AYP requirements of NCLB after some or all of these corrective actions have been implemented, the district, with input from the staff and the parents of the community, will be forced to look at other options. It is also at this point that the state can step in and take managerial control of the school.

“The (district) has to allow the parents and staff to have input into the restructuring process. They have many questions to answer, like are they going to replace the school’s staff, or make it a charter school, among other options,” Blysma said.

A school that does not meet the requirements of NCLB for two consecutive years has one year to plan the corrective action and one year to implement it, Bylsma said.

McQueen, spokesperson for the National Education Association, said she believes the sanctions are the damaging part of the legislation for children in public schools.

“The sanctions are detrimental. Even with these goals (of accountability). (NCLB) states the special needs children and limited English proficient children should not be written off. But then, if these kids miss the (testing) mark, the legislation takes the scarce and limited resources away from the school. (NCLB is not) fixing the problem,” McQueen said.

As for Salzman she knows that despite all the difficult aspects that face her school in the future, the staff and teachers are all working hard to give the students a good education.

“The immediate conversations we are having address the areas where we are not meeting the objectives,” Salzman said. “We have some dynamics in our population that will make it interesting, but we have the general attitude that we are going to get this done.”

Jason Kosena Page 2 12/15/03

No Child Left Behind

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