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NCLB Outrages

Many Calif. Public Schools Meet State Goals But Fail Federal Test

In an interview this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said she was confident that teachers and parents could sort through the mass of information provided by the two accountability systems and make sense of their schools' progress.

By Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin

Nearly one-third of California public schools won praise today for meeting state achievement goals on test scores even while they were branded as failures for missing a federal gauge of success.

The conflicting messages grew out of separate state and federal accountability systems that left many teachers and administrators frustrated about the muddled picture of their schools.

Campus leaders were left to decipher the differences between California's Academic Performance Index, which rewards incremental test score gains, and the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to clear a rigid achievement bar that rises regularly.

Both systems relied on the same standardized test scores that were released earlier this month. The raw test scores showed steady improvement among California's public schools.

But the two accountability systems arrived at distinctly different conclusions about the schools.

State education officials said they were pleased that 81% of the schools had met their state improvement targets, up from 64% last year.

But the officials were not happy about the results under the federal system: nearly 2,300 schools that met their state targets still fell short of the No Child Left Behind goal. More than 5,100 California schools met their federal goals.

That's because the federal bar rose for the first time this year, leaving many campuses unable to reach it.

To pass the federal bar this year, elementary schools and middle schools had to raise at least 24% of their students to the proficient level in English-language arts, up from nearly 14% last year.

Teachers said that No Child Left Behind was unfairly penalizing schools that had shown marked improvement over several years under the state system.

The teachers' concerns were underscored by the potential consequences of failing to meet the federal expectations.

Under No Child Left Behind, campuses that receive anti-poverty funds can face sanctions including the removal of teachers and state takeovers if they continually fall beneath the firm bar.

"It's extremely frustrating. My question is, 'Is their goal to fail us?' If that's their goal, then they're succeeding," said Principal Joseph Pena Santana of John Adams Middle School, which could face such sanctions this year even though its test score gains were more than double the goal set by the state.

Santana said he has tried not to let the disconnect harm teacher morale at the South Los Angeles campus by focusing on the state increases.

"We're trying our best and our API scores are going up and up and up and up, but we're still not making [the federal goal] because they raise the mark on us," he said.

"As soon as we think we've got it, they take it right out from underneath us."

Federal education officials defended the No Child Left Behind law, saying it holds all schools across the country accountable for the academic performance of their students a notion that had not been fully embraced by states until the law took effect three years ago.

The law requires all students to be proficient in English and math by the 2013-14 school year, but it lets states set annual improvement targets to reach the 100% goal.

In an interview this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said she was confident that teachers and parents could sort through the mass of information provided by the two accountability systems and make sense of their schools' progress.

She also said the federal system provided an important tool for schools as they try to overcome deficiencies.

— Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
2005-09-01
http://www.latimes.com/news/education/la-083105schools_lat,1,365822.story?coll=la-news-learning


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