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NCLB Outrages

Lenape District Warned

Ohanian Comment: Notice as this happens around the country it becomes news to involved residents. But to those of us watching it happen from afar, it's same old, same old, an event to discredit public schools happening as planned.

Lenape Regional High School District, which enjoys a reputation for graduating some of the most academically talented students in Burlington County, could face sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The New Jersey Department of Education yesterday labeled Len-ape and 25 other public school districts statewide as "in need of improvement" due to lower than acceptable performance by students on standardized tests. Lenape was the only district Burlington County labeled.
A district spokeswoman tied the warning to test performance by special-education students.

If test scores do not improve over the next few years, the district could face reductions in federal funding, removal of teachers and administrators and, in the worst case, a forced restructuring of the district, state education officials said.

"While we are pleased that only about 5 percent of New Jersey's 593 operating school districts have been deemed to be in need of improvement by NCLB standards, we are very concerned about the sanctions that these districts will be facing if the performance of their students does not improve over the next two years," said William Librera, state education commissioner.

Pat Milich, Lenape Regional High School District spokeswoman, said the designation ignores overall academic achievement.

"We're in the business of educating children," Milich said. "That's what we do, and we do our best to resolve any type of problem, but we are not a failing school district."

Previously, only individual schools were cited for not meeting No Child Left Behind standards.

However, the federal government this year switched emphasis to the district-administration level where policy is decided and program funding allocated, department officials said.

Individual school results remain the basis for evaluation. Administrators knew Cherokee, Lenape and Shawnee High schools failed to meet federal benchmarks related to special-education students taking the High School Proficiency Assessment in 2002-03 and 2003-04, said Milich.

The fourth school in the district, Seneca High School, did not open until September 2003.

"It has nothing to do with (overall) achievement," Milich said. "The designation is related to factors that we really have no control over: that is, participation in the area of special education."

To pass state scrutiny each year, a school must meet 40 criteria. If a school does not meet all 40, it is labeled as falling short of "adequate yearly progress" and warned to improve or face increasingly harsh sanctions over a five-year period.

In deciding if a district should be labeled in need of improvement, the department analyzed performance of all students, including those in special-education programs. It also looked at each school. If half the schools in a district did not make adequate yearly progress in 2003-04, the district made the warning list.

For now, districts must notify parents, develop an improvement plan and allocate funds for teacher training.

Librera urged parents not to overreact to the designation. "Ask questions and think about the answers in the whole context of the particular school and the education their child is getting," he said.

Email: jbernstein@phillyBurbs.com

— Josh Bernstein
Bucks County Courier Times


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