Law draws local flak
The federal law that was created to improve education for all students is the very thing that is hurting some San Bernardino County school districts, local educators say.
Often referred to as a one-size-fits-all approach to education, the No Child Left Behind Act has received much criticism since it became law three years ago. Some local educators said successful school districts can be labeled as failing if only one provision under the act is not met.
With a goal of having every child proficient in math and reading by 2014, the law requires schools to show yearly student progress.
In March, 12 out of 33 school districts in the county were placed on a federal list of failing schools. Districts that did not meet student achievement requirements were placed on the program improvement list and given two years to shape up.
Schools that don't show yearly progress can be penalized and lose federal funding.
Hesperia Unified School District was one of the districts identified as failing because of low test scores among special-education students.
Hesperia Unified's success in moving special-education students into mainstream classes contributed to the district being labeled as failing, said Superintendent Richard Bray.
As a result of reclassifying higher-functioning special-education students as regular students, the severely disabled were the only ones remaining in the special-education program. This caused the group's to fall short of federal benchmarks, Bray said.
"It's a Catch-22,' said Jim Huckeba, director of special services. More than 100 students with severe physical and cognitive disabilities are in special education in the district.
Bray said the district, which includes schools that have received state achievement awards, is unfairly labeled as failing.
"What you have left in this group are students who are severely disabled these are kids who are blind or low-functioning. These kids are always going to be behind,' said Bray.
Bray said he and other educators have been lobbying state legislators about the challenges districts face.
The desert district, with more than 18,000 students, is known for improving test scores using a progressive education model called ExCEL, short for Excellence, a Commitment to Every Learner. Last year educators from as far as Florida visited the district to be trained in ExCEL.
Since the program was implemented in 1998, test scores have jumped dramatically. With the exception of two alternative schools, all Hesperia schools have API scores of 617 or higher, some of the highest scores in the county.
County Superintendent of Schools Herbert Fischer expressed concern over the unintentional consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act.
"For a district like Hesperia that has been a leader in moving special-education students into the core program, they are being punished for it when they're labeled as failing,' said Fischer.
Fischer said he supports the intentions of the No Child Left Behind Act, but disagrees with some of the mandates that work against school districts.
He said parents should be aware of why districts are deemed failing. "Parents don't know the intricacies involved. All they know is that their district is failing.'
A recent report by the National Center on Education Policy found that holding special-education students to the same No Child Left Behind Act standards as other students is unrealistic. The report was based on surveys of school districts and state educators throughout the country.
While some educators may see the No Child Left Behind Act as unfair, Greg Lundeen, who heads the Victorville-based Victor Valley Union High School District that serves more than 9,000 students from seventh to 12th grade, said being placed on program improvement is an opportunity to strengthen student programs.
"We welcome the challenge. We'll take on the challenge to improve student proficiency,' said Lundeen, whose district was deemed failing due to low scores in special education.
Lundeen said the U.S. education system needs major improvements and the No Child Left Behind Act is a step in that direction.
He recently visited schools in the United Kingdom and said educators should be held accountable when students are not reaching proficiency levels.
"We see this as an opportunity to help our students,' said Lundeen.
San Bernadino Sun
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