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NCLB Outrages

Milwaukee Suburban Districts Cited for Missing Mark

Ohanian Comment: Nationwide, many schools seem to get on the NCLB hit list for not making the 95% tested rate.

Three suburban Milwaukee school districts were singled out by the state Department of Public Instruction Monday for not meeting Wisconsin's new accountability standards during the last school year.

Greenfield, Germantown and New Berlin were among 26 districts and 110 schools cited.

The appearance of the three districts on the list was surprising given their overall reputations. The list also included several Madison-area schools known for their students' performance on college admission tests.

But a district can be cited even if small groups of students - those in special education for example - don't meet standards for test participation or minimum scores in math, reading and science. All are required to make "adequate yearly progress" under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

The designation carries no immediate sanctions, but nonetheless was disappointing to school officials at the districts cited. All said they would work hard to address issues raised by state officials.

"I don't think anybody wants to be on the list," said James Benfield, superintendent of the New Berlin School District, cited for not having enough of its special education students take standardized tests last year. "To be honest with you, we all want to make annual progress."

The list distributed Monday differs from one released earlier this year that named 72 schools "identified for improvement," where children were eligible to transfer to another school. To be named to that list, a school has to serve a substantial low-income population and not make adequate yearly progress for at least two years in a row.

If the districts do not improve their performance during the current school year in the areas that landed them on the DPI's new list, they will be required to draft improvement plans that address the problem, said Mike Thompson, the DPI's federal policy adviser. The state would then notify every student in the districts, at that point formally "identified for improvement," and might take corrective action against the districts, he said.

According to officials in the Germantown and Greenfield school districts, they missed making "adequate yearly progress" because they did not have enough special education students score at proficient or advanced levels on the state's standardized reading test.

"The mere reason students are in special education is because we know they're in academic difficulty and now we're citing a district because of those students," said Anita Husby, director of instruction for the Greenfield School District.

Germantown also is investigating whether DPI wrongly counted some former special education students against its results. It can appeal the DPI's designation within the next month.

In New Berlin, where the district missed the 95% test participation rate for its special education students by just 3 percentage points, district officials also said they might appeal the decision. Linda Thalacker, New Berlin's coordinator of standards and assessment, was optimistic the district could improve its testing rate this school year.

Stan Johnson, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said many of the school districts were singled out for not meeting the state's 95% test participation standard or having a small group of students score too low on just one test. The council is the state's largest teachers union.

"This law wrongly condemns districts on the basis of a single statistic from a high-stakes test and fails to take into account other measures of learning," he said in a statement.

But Ken Cole, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the law could get school districts to pay more attention to easy-to-forget populations.

"The truth of the matter is schools could look like they're doing wonderfully well and kids could be left behind," he said. "This is 'no child left behind.' "

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos called the list "schools to watch."

Andrekopoulos said his district plans to notify its 57 schools that did not meet the yearly progress targets - some of which already had been "identified for improvement" for not meeting other state-set standards - and might provide them with extra assistance.

The district is working to boost test participation rates this year by homing in on special education students, he said. MPS just missed the 95% mark last year, with an overall rate of 94%. But the participation rate for special education students was lower, about 92%.

"We are within an eyelash of making that happen," he said.

As a way to boost its test participation rate, which proved to be a problem at schools last year, the Racine Unified School District is asking permission from the DPI to set aside a testing day at each school for ninth- and 10th-graders. Ann Lange, Racine Unified's assistant superintendent of student services, said a single day of testing would make it easier to administer and to track the students who missed it.

— Amy Hetzner
Suburban districts miss state standard
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


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