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NCLB Outrages

Red Clay official calls for ratings overhaul

Ohanian Comment: Take a look at the Pediatrics Letter on the Advocates for Children's Education website. What a good idea. Everyone concerned about the developmental appropriateness of state standards and testing should apparoach local medical societies.

"I think the whole rating system is deceiving and doesn't reflect all the factors. If you want to talk about destroying the motivations of both students and staff, the state and federal governments are doing a great job of that."

--Robert Andrzejewski, Red Clay, Delaware Superintendent of schools

by Cecilia Le

The poor federal ratings of Warner and Marbrook elementary schools don't reflect the improvement those schools have made, says Red Clay Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski, who is calling for an overhaul of the rating system.

On Wednesday, district officials learned Warner and Marbrook are facing the harshest sanctions of any school in Delaware under the federal education reform law No Child Left Behind.

"I think the whole rating system is deceiving and doesn't reflect all the factors," Andrzejewski said. "If you want to talk about destroying the motivations of both students and staff, the state and federal governments are doing a great job of that."

Overall, both Wilmington schools improved enough to meet state progress targets on reading and math tests, but failed to meet the level of federal progress required for certain student groups for the fifth year in a row.

As a consequence, the schools must form a plan to restructure, which could include reopening as a charter school, replacing all or most of the staff or arranging for a state takeover of the school. They do not have to implement the plan unless they fail to make adequate progress again next year.

Red Clay officials say the law is unreasonable to dictate that all students must achieve at the same level.

To make matters worse, Andrzejewski said, schools labeled "under improvement" for low scores this year were entitled to state and federal funds to spend on helping the neediest students. But the schools did not receive the funds until May, when the school year was nearly over.

"The state needs to be held accountable for that," he said.

The state was late in doling out the improvement money of $50,000 per school, Deputy Secretary of Education Nancy Wilson acknowledged.

"It took us longer than we expected to get through all our processes to verify the distribution of those funds," she said. Wilson said schools will receive the money on time this year, now that the paperwork is complete.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to ensure students from all backgrounds make a certain level of progress in reading and math each year. Students are grouped based on race, income, disability and ability to speak English. If even one group fails to improve, the school's overall rating suffers.

Marbrook missed the target in reading among black students, who make up 18 percent of the student body. Andrzejewski said Marbrook has much work to do, but argues missing one target out of 24 shouldn't force the school to plan to restructure.

Warner missed only the reading target for special education students. That, the superintendent says, is because the test scores of 32 children who attend an intensive learning center but live within Warner's boundaries are counted with Warner's scores.

"I'm going to the staff at Warner and telling them, 'You made it,' " he said. "They've made remarkable progress. I don't put any validity in the state rating for Warner."

Warner appealed its rating this summer and lost, Wilson said.

Wilson said the fact that both schools met state progress targets shows they're on the right track.

"This is what the law says," she said. "The department can't change those options. That's set by the federal government."

Marbrook third-grade teacher Victoria Killen said she knew the school hadn't met all targets, but still did not expect to hear it must plan to restructure.

"We were a little surprised," she said. "We consider Marbrook a wonderful school. The parents have been very supportive. They usually seem very surprised when this information has come out."

Warner is far from the only school that has struggled with special education scores. Low scores with that group plague schools statewide.

Federal education officials announced plans this spring to allow more students with disabilities to take a different test. But a federal task force is still deciding what the new rules should be, and there's no word on whether they will apply to students in the coming year.

Federal rules allowed schools more leeway in calculating special education scores this year, but doing so didn't help any Delaware schools that were sanctioned, said Robin Taylor, associate secretary of education for assessment and accountability.

Michael Bank is a counselor at Richardson Park Learning Center, which educates the special education students grouped with Warner.

He says an alternate test for those students can't come soon enough.

The state test wastes instruction time by testing them on material that is, in some cases, years beyond their comprehension level, he said.

"We have students who shut down, who break into tears because they get so frustrated, who knock over furniture or start fighting or become physically sick because of the [test]," said Bank, who is also president of the Red Clay teachers' union.

Red Clay parent Yvonne Johnson called the Warner rating "a travesty." Johnson heads a parent group called Advocates for Children's Education , which lobbies against high-stakes testing.

She believes Delaware should forgo federal funds to avoid having to comply with No Child Left Behind, but that isn't likely to happen. State officials have resolved to work under the federal law.

Meanwhile, Red Clay plans to schedule public forums to address the Warner and Marbrook communities.

"To expect all kids to pass the test at the same time is not realistic, and the federal government is just beginning to realize that," Andrzejewski said.

"If my schools are not making progress, I am looking to do dramatic surgery on them. But when the rating improves, I find it hard to believe that the punishment gets more severe."

Contact Cecilia Le at 324-2794 or cle@delawareonline.com.

— Cecilia Le
New Journal


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