Officials lament AYP as measure
By Mark Locklear
LUMBERTON - School officials say if you want to know what is wrong with No Child Left Behind, look at Carroll Middle School.
The school, considered one of the county's best, had nearly 80 percent of its students pass the end-of-grade tests in reading and math and each year parents are clamoring to get their children enrolled there.
But according to the Adequate Yearly Progress released last week, Carroll Middle isn't up to snuff.
The school is one of 27 in the county that failed to meet specific targets on standardized tests during the 2004-2005 school year, according to the report given for all U.S. public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. The law says all students will perform at grade level in reading and math by 2013.
School board member Terry Smith called the results in the report both misleading and confusing.
"AYP breaks it down to small groups almost to the point where you can't be successful," Smith said. "No Child Left Behind is a program that was brought down haphazardly by the federal government and not properly funded."
Carroll Middle Principal James Coleman said the results hardly provide an accurate portrait of his school. Coleman said 79.4 of Carroll Middle passed the End-of-Grade tests last year. But on the AYP, Carroll Middle was only able to meet 15 out of 27 targets set.
"Carroll Middle is a good school," Coleman said. "If they look just at the AYP results, their first impression is going to be negative."
The report measures subgroups of students against a fixed performance standard in reading and math. In order to make AYP, a school must meet a specific number of targets. There is little room for schools to fail in one area.
If a school misses one subgroup, it doesn't make AYP. Coleman said it's not fair to punish the entire school.
"If there is a minimum of 40 students in a subgroup, if 10 of those fail, then I don't make AYP," Coleman said. "That's one group out of 750 students at the school ... they need to look at tweaking it to make it more fair."
Rex-Rennert Elementary Principal Leon Maynor agrees, saying the state already has enough ways to monitor a school's growth.
"The ABCs (of Public Education) is enough for our state to tell us where we are and where we need to go," Maynor said.
The ABCs model also uses end-of-grade test to measure growth expectations.
"With No Child Left Behind, children with disabilities are asked to do at least what an average children is asked," he said. "And our Hispanic students, after they've been here two years are asked to perform like their peers who have been here all their life. To me there's some drawbacks. Give me the personnel where we need the help."
Educators say making AYP each is tough because the standards are raised every three years, basically making for a moving target. In January, the state raised its proficiency goal in reading from 68.9 percent to 76.7. In math, 81 percent of students must pass. That percentage was 74.6 the previous year.
Carroll Middle was among nine county schools that didn't make AYP for the second straight year, meaning parents have the option to transfer their children out of the schools. The other "choice schools" are St. Pauls, Townsend and Red Springs middle schools, Long Branch, Rex-Rennert, Parkton and W.H. Knuckles elementary schools and Lumberton Junior High.
Choice schools must make AYP two consecutive years to lose that label. F
"Raising the bar is fine as long as we get a fair shake," Maynor said. "With the ABCs, if you don't meet our expectation the state will give you teams. With AYP it's left up to the local school system."
Smith county schools will just have to do better.
"The bar is not just being raised in Robeson County," Smith said. "It's being raised all over the country. I am not pleased with our progression. I think we can do better."
In Robeson County, 34 percent of the schools hit their goals, way below the state average of 65 percent.
Board member Severeo Kerns agrees that No Child Left Behind is a tough law but says it will help children in the long run.
"I strongly believe in accountability," Kerns said. "If you continue to set higher standards, students are going to work harder to do better. I think it's going to work."
Assistant Superintendent Alphonzo McRae also believes No Child Left Behind has helped improve performance.
"It has caused us to focus more on student achievement on all spectrums," McRae said. "To some degree we've grown from one point to the next. The mindset in developing the legislation is you just don't improve overnight. It takes years to make that transition."
McRae said the federal law keeps schools in an "improvement mode."
Superintendent Colin Armstrong said the system plans to focus more on the needs of each subgroup during the upcoming school year.
"We must focus on teaching a broad range of students because not all students learn the same way," Armstrong said.
Armstrong the schools that barely missed making AYP should be proud of its success.
"If I am a CEO of a company and we met 24 out of 25 goals for the year, I would be having a party and giving out bonuses," he said. "It's frustrating to the staff as they try to deal with this. AYP is an important piece of information but it is better used in combination with other bits of information."
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