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NCLB Outrages

Schools see work pay off

Ohanian Comment: The self-congratulatory remarks make me nervous, especially knowing that under NCLB numbers, everybody will fail soon or later. Notice now they term laying off teachers in a school--getting a "fresh start," as though the teachers were causing the problem of poverty. If they wanted to raise test scores, they should make sure the families of children attending the school receive a living wage.

As principals at five Memphis city schools today celebrate getting off the state's dreaded "high priority" school list -- five others struggling with three years of persistently low scores hope to avert a state takeover.

In No Child Left Behind statistics released today by the state, dozens of Memphis city schools made consistent gains in reading and math -- enough to help the urban district as a whole make adequate yearly progress for the first time and move out from under the state's high priority label.

"It's about putting the right supports in place," Memphis Supt. Carol Johnson said.

Not a single Shelby County school made the state's list this year. All of the suburban district's schools made adequate progress under No Child Left Behind. Four county schools that were on the "target" list last year made it off this year by posting two years of consistent improvements.

"I jumped up and down when I saw that," county schools Supt. Bobby Webb said.

Amid the hopeful gains, however, there was concern for the fate of five Memphis city schools that are not showing enough progress despite steps to introduce programs and replace some staff.

State education officials will travel to Memphis late this week and next week to work with Memphis city school administrators on a plan to revive student performance at Vance Middle, Cypress Middle and Westwood Middle/High. The district already has decided to "fresh start" the other two schools that face state intervention -- Geeter Middle and Winchester Elementary -- with a crop of new teachers and two new principals.

The statistics released today are the first batch of data released twice a year under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Schools will see preliminary data today about how close, or how far, students are from meeting stringent standards for reading and math proficiency, attendance and graduation rates. The goal: for all students in all schools to be 100 percent proficient in reading and math by 2014. More details for each school will be released in the fall.

Schools that don't meet the benchmarks are placed in one of two major categories -- "target schools" that don't face sanction but are under close watch from the state, and "high priority" schools that haven't met benchmarks for two or more years and ultimately face state intervention if they don't improve.

Five Memphis "high priority" schools that had historically struggled with poverty, highly mobile student populations and several years of low test scores made it off the list this year. Those schools were Booker T. Washington High, Georgian Hills Elementary, Hawkins Mill Elementary, Lanier Middle and Longview Middle.

Four Shelby County "target" schools also made it off the list: Arlington Middle, Millington High, Rivercrest Elementary and Woodstock Middle.

Memphis city school officials say they're equally proud of schools that remained on the list but continued to make solid improvements.

Of the 57 "high priority" Memphis schools, down from 62 last year, more than two-thirds are in an "improving" stage. They must post another year's improvement to get off the list.

Memphis school officials credit a number of factors for the turnaround -- a districtwide literacy campaign that required teachers, parents and students to read at least 25 books a year; aggressive teacher and principal training; and intensive data huddles that picked apart every student's performance to personalize teaching.

The Memphis district has 25 schools on a "target list" for narrowly missing benchmarks. These schools face no sanctions, but will be under the state's and district's microscope for student performance. Six schools are on the "target" list for the first time. Nineteen others got off the list last year for making marked gains in reading and attendance, but found themselves back on again for math.

Math performance is a stubborn hurdle for Memphis city school students. In elementary, middle and high schools, performance on math continues to be spotty, and officials point to Gateway algebra performance as one of the toughest barriers to graduation for hundreds of high school students.

In response, the Memphis district plans to launch a math initiative that puts "math coaches" in schools with particularly low math performance.

New math textbooks are being adopted in elementary schools to "form a solid foundation for math," Johnson said.

Teachers have spent the summer getting additional math training to bring numbers alive. Math competitions and contests may also become popular as the district works to get its students excited about the subject.

-- Ruma Banerji Kumar: 529-2596

— Ruma Banerji Kumar
Commercial Appeal


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