Native schools revise approach to No Child Left Behind
"We teach kids that we don't test, and we test kids that we don't teach and that's our major problem."
--Box Elder Public Schools Superintendent Robert Heppner
Compelling as this argument is, it is also the basis of the call for a national curriculum.
by Ellen Thompson
At schools on and near Indian reservations, administrators are trying to figure out how to meet No Child Left Behind standards after several years of missing the mark. Some say success is still a ways off.
Among the 58 Montana schools that did not meet No Childehind standards, 47 were on or near Indian reservations and several of those were local schools. Left B
Federal education law requires that schools be evaluated based on test results, test participation and graduation rates. Statewide, more schools met the standards for the 2004-05 school year than had in the previous school year, with 93 percent passing. That was partially due to higher test scores and a more flexible evaluation process that takes into account factors besides test scores.
At schools that didn't make it, administrators will address some of the factors they think contribute to their schools not meeting NCLB. Those administrators have different ideas about what the factors are.
Hays-Lodge Pole Superintendent Jim Anderson said that for years, reservation schools did not stress testing. No schools in that district met the standards this year. In the past, Lodge Pole School, the elementary school, had met the standards several times.
"Particularly with low socio-economic status, my experience is, such students never realized that testing was important," Anderson said. "No one noticed it until No Child Left Behind came along. Then it got published in the paper and people said, 'Wow."'
Box Elder Public Schools Superintendent Robert Heppner said that at Box Elder, the transfer rate is the biggest factor affecting test scores. When administrators looked at the scores among students who had been at Box Elder schools for three consecutive years, those students exceeded the testing standards, he said.
But a significant number of students are not staying put. Box Elder Elementary School met the standards this year, but the middle and high schools did not. When registration starts next week, Heppner said, he expects to have 70 transfer students among the district's 350 students. He said he will lose about as many students in a year.
"We teach kids that we don't test, and we test kids that we don't teach and that's our major problem," he said, adding that he thinks the same is probably true at reservation schools across the state.
Rocky Boy schools did not meet the standards for a third year while Harlem elementary and high schools did, and the middle school did not.
Schools failing to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" - the term for complying with No Child Left Behind's testing standards - for two or more consecutive years must spend money in areas such as teacher training and tutoring services or face a loss of federal aid.
Anderson said he thinks stressing testing further will help solve the problem. Testing standards are good, he said, because test-taking skills are something students need long after they finish school, with more and more jobs requiring testing.
"We need to, as communities, wake up and learn how to be competitive," he said.
Anderson took over as superintendent in July after working for several years as a testing coordinator at Rocky Boy Schools. He also worked as a principal in South Dakota and Alaska at schools with significant Native American populations.
"The low test scores is not a blame game," Anderson said. His plan, he said, has been to hire teachers who share the goal of making Adequate Yearly Progress.
He hired several new teachers this summer and said that a big part of the interview process was spent discussing testing.
This year was the second year that Lodge Pole School did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.
Lodge Pole principal Amy Snow said she is planning a series of programs called "On the Road to AYP" that will include evening programs for parents and community members.
"When testing week gets here, everybody will be aware of it," Snow said. "It's not going to be something where people aren't going to know what's happening."
Instability in the lives of students is a problem, meanwhile, that Heppner said is difficult to solve.
When he asks students why they are leaving, Heppner said, he often hears that it's because of a divorce, a job change, or a change in who the child is living with in the extended family.
Those students aren't always going far, he said. Some go to Rocky Boy, others to Heart Butte or Browning - but they don't always spend a full school year in one place.
Box Elder Public Schools will begin a new program, Families and Schools Together, that involves parents and family members in a struggling child's education through family counseling.
That program may help, Heppner said, but in general, family instability is something that the school cannot control.
Another factor related to stability is the graduation rate. NCLB requires that 80 percent of students graduate. That doesn't happen at most reservation schools, Heppner said.
Harlem high school and middle school principal Nancy Coleman says NCLB doesn't reflect the improvement in her middle school students.
"The way they determine (AYP) is not necessarily a good determination of whether we're making progress year to year," she said.
"It's not that we're not improving," Coleman said. "You tell the kids they're doing well, and they are doing well, but the bar is just a little higher."
Harlem High School made the grade this year, after missing it twice, while Harlem Middle School did not make it this year, after making it in the past.
"You tell the kids they're doing well, and they are doing well, but the bar is just a little higher," she said.
Havre Daily News
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