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NCLB Outrages

Despite law, some pupils left behind

Ohanian Comment: Does this mean the corporate-politico-media complex will stop blaming teachers and schools, that they'll admit that it's family income that's at the core of the problem? Of course not! It's so neat and tidy to blame the schools and the teachers.

Broward County students who transferred out of low-performing schools last year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act didn't gain a significant academic boost by changing classrooms and teachers, according to a report released by the school district on Thursday.

The analysis of 842 transfer students shows they did no better on state tests than their peers who decided to remain at their old campuses.

It's the first study to evaluate President Bush's signature education reform program, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Broward Schools Director of Research Services Cary Sutton said the study was meant to be an early look at the federal act and help determine whether the $1.5 million to transfer students last year was well spent.

"Probably in three or four years we'll understand better what benefits, if any, might be associated with No Child Left Behind," Sutton said.

Congress passed the federal education law in 2001, giving the U.S. Department of Education broad powers to hold schools, especially those with large numbers of low-income students, accountable for student performance.

If schools don't show "adequate yearly progress" on standardized tests, education officials can force them to spend money on programs to increase scores using federal dollars normally earmarked for low-income students.

If a school fails to show progress two years in a row, it has to allow students to transfer to higher-performing schools. Schools thatcontinue to falter would have to offer tutors and could ultimately be forced to change teachers and staff.

U.S. Department of Education spokesman Chad Colby said Broward's report is the first his office has heard of that looks at whether any of these remedies are working.

"We're glad that school districts are doing this, that they're monitoring this progress," Colby said. "But it's just too early to tell what the benefit will be."

The Broward County report focused on students at 66 of the district's schools that failed to show progress two years in a row on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It compared 2005 test scores from transfer students against 46,291 students who stayed at their home campuses. The study also looked at attendance, discipline records and whether any students were held back at the end of the year.

For the two groups the researchers found no significant difference between achievement levels on standardized tests and attendance rates.

There was a difference, however, in discipline problems. The researchers found that transferred students were more likely to be sent to the principal's office or sent home as punishment.

Debbie Glade, a parent of an eighth-grader at Parkway Middle in Fort Lauderdale, said she got letters this year from the district saying Parkway had failed the federal criteria, and that her daughter could transfer if she wanted. She declined.

"I don't know how well that works," she said of the transfer program. "Some schools that are considered to be good are also really overcrowded."

Fewer than 2 percent of the 56,000 students who were eligible in Broward decided to transfer last year. In a previous study, Broward researchers found that those who chose to move had scored below the county average last year on state tests.

Sutton said his office plans to continue to track the progress of transferred students for the next few years. In addition to test scores and attendance rates, Sutton said he also may look at how many transferred students decide to return to their original schools.

"After they've chosen to move, what proportion stick with it?" Sutton said. "We'd be interested in understanding why."

Chris Kahn can be reached at cmkahn@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4550.

— Chris Kahn


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