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NCLB Outrages

Every Pupil Counts in Testing to Meet Federal Standards

Ohanian Comment: As we witness more and more, people who cite the Law as the reason for bad behavior seem blind to the needs of children, and they lose their humanity. Everyone who obeys the NCLB Law is in danger of a similar loss.

Three weeks had passed since the car accident that broke Clydessa Coleman's bones, affected her short-term memory and took her 11 year-old brother's life. Coleman, 16, still was lying in bed and the last thing she wanted to do was take a test.

But the choice wasn't up to her.

Miller High School assistant principal Claude Axel attempted to administer the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skill (TAKS) to Coleman while she was lying in a hospital bed. The district attempted to get a waiver to exempt her from the test, but Texas Education Agency officials denied it, as is customary in virtually every case.

"Our directions were that we had to administer the test to all students," Axel said. "I thought it was inhumane to administer the test to someone who earlier was fighting for her life. Even for me to ask the question didn't make sense to me."

Colemanrefused to take the exam and said she felt like the school didn't understand her situation. "It wasn't the time to take a test," she said.

Every student counts

When it comes to testing, meeting federal standards and money, every student counts. And sacrifices, especially by some of the district's poorest schools, have to be made.

Miller High School, for example, is a Title I school, which means a majority of the students are on free or reduced-cost lunch. As a Title I school, Miller receives additional federal dollars, this year $631,625. These funds are threatened and eventually can be taken away if the school doesn't meet federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

For two years, Miller has not met federal requirements of the federal law on the TAKS. Miller fell short of meeting federal standards in three of the six student subgroups tested. Special education and limited English proficiency students did not pass the reading and math sections of the TAKS. African-American students fell short in the math section.

Title I refers to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which provides federal funds to school systems across the country to improve education for children at risk of school failure who live in low-income communities. It reaches students primarily in the early elementary grades; one in five first-graders participate. Typically it supports supplemental instruction in reading and math.

48.5 % in Title 1

About 18,655 students, or 48.5 percent of Corpus Christi Independent School District students, are taught in 36 Title I schools. The district received about $14 million in Title I funding this year for the schools. The money pays for more tutoring, more supplies, and outreach to parents, which is a stipulation of the federal dollars, said Yvonne Colmenero, No Child Left Behind coordinator for the district.

According to the state, schools with 40 percent or more of the student population on free or reduced-cost lunch can be considered for Title I funds. The money is distributed from the federal government to the state. The state allocates the money based on the U.S. Census poverty level. The districts, which get a lump sum, rank their schools from highest percentage of students on free or reduced lunch to the lowest. Every district in the state receives Title I funds. CCISD limits the number of schools that receive the funds to those with 58 percent or more of its population on free or reduced-cost lunch. Therefore, according to district officials, the schools that need the money the most get a bigger piece of the pie.

"We have to ask ourselves, 'Do we want a quality program (Title I program) or do we add more students and have a not-so-good-quality program,' " Colmenero said. "To really improve student achievement, schools have to have a more generous piece of the pie."

Must take, must pass

According to federal law, for a school to meet federal education standards, a percentage of six student subgroups - Hispanic, White, African American, Limited English Proficiency, Special Education, and economically disadvantaged - must take and pass the reading and math state exams. In each subgroup, 47 percent must pass reading and 33 percent must pass math. About 95 percent of students in each subgroup have to take the exam.

For the minimum state standards, 50 percent of the total amount of students are required to pass state reading and writing and 35 percent had to pass mathematics.

The federal and state standards are different because Texas implemented an accountability system based on standardized tests before the federal NCLB law was passed in 2001. NCLB was modeled on Texas' accountability system. Therefore, some Texas education officials say they shouldn't have to change to meet federal standards.

But when it comes to Title I schools, the federal standards must be met if the schools want to receive additional federal funds. That's why every student counts, said Nancy Vera, 11th-grade English teacher at Miller.

"People don't know what we do to get these kids here to take the test," she said.

Call from school

For example, Cynthia Sosa, 17, received a phone call at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 22 from Miller High School principal Yolanda Gonzalez, who asked her to come in and the TAKS.

Sosa spent the previous night in the hospital because a rash on her stomach had become infected. Sosa said doctors told her to take her antibiotics, not to wear anything on her stomach for awhile, and not to go to school.

Hours later, wearing baggy basketball gym shorts and still sleepy, she was at school taking the exam.

"I wasn't too sure if I could take it or not," she said. "I hadn't had enough sleep. When I came, I was tired and in really bad pain. From a scale of 1 to 10, it was an 8."

Gonzalez said she didn't want to call Sosa in but she had to because it would affect Miller negatively if she didn't.

Moody High School, which has been a Title I school for two years, had buses picking up students on test day. The school doesn't have a bus route. Students normally come to school by car or by foot.

As for Coleman, she is homebound for the rest of the school year. Her bones have healed and her memory is slowly returning.

In late April, she took the math, science and social studies part of the TAKS. Results of the TAKS test should be out this week.

"I had forgotten something but the things I knew, I tried," she said. "I tried the best I could."


— Icess Fernandez
Corpus Christi Caller-Times


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