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NCLB Outrages

Why Is Your School On This List?

More than 200 Washington-area schools failed to meet the standards set under the No Child Left Behind Act. So Outlook asked local educators for an explanation. Few are willing to criticize NCLB.

Reginald Ballard
Cardozo High School, Northwest Washington

We are a "needs improvement" school. In 2004-2005, we did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in both reading and math. We are trying to avoid moving to the next step, "corrective action," which has an even more negative connotation to it.

There is nothing positive I can say about No Child Left Behind. We were one of the schools that did make AYP at the beginning, so we were a school that kids from other schools could transfer to. But that was almost like a Catch-22. If you get that designation, they send you kids with low test scores, which helps bring you down further. Almost all the schools that originally made AYP have now moved down to "needs improvement."

One of the things we are trying hard to do is make sure we teach the standards that are required on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test. I am not saying we are teaching to the test. We don't know what it's going to look like, but we are teaching those standards that will be on it.

I am having my teachers develop plans to determine the skills that the students who were close to receiving satisfactory scores need to improve. I have teachers doing lesson plans on those skills, and they have to tell me where their students are after each assessment, and how they are going to move them to the next level.

I have been at Cardozo 11 years, and we have had many successes, with our AP program growing and many students going to college and succeeding. This is the best job I have ever had in my life, to come to work with these kids and this staff.

Rodney Henderson
Kenmoor Elementary School, Landover

The first time we did not meet the AYP standards two years ago, we had been told several months before that we had. Then I got the dreaded call from the head of our school improvement department informing me of "some bad news." We had not made AYP in attendance. The attendance standard was 93.9 percent and the school only made 93.1 percent for the year.

Our school is in an area of extremely high transience. Sometimes families fail to notify us that they are moving, and it takes several weeks to discover this fact. In the meantime, we get charged for those absent days.

Last year we made AYP in every category but special ed mathematics. We missed it by 0.3 percentage points, and I was sick about that for a long time. We only have 20 special ed students, but their disabilities cover a broad range. Some of these students fall several years behind grade level in reading, for example, and yet they are required to take the test at their grade level. This is the mandate for all students in the school no matter what their abilities. Once you miss AYP, you have two years to get off the list. If you make AYP the second year, but then fail the subsequent year, you stay on the list.

Going back to the drawing board is all you can do. We have been doing so much preparation for the upcoming Maryland State Assessment (MSA). We've had dress rehearsals all year; we had the last one last Monday. Before, the kids were intimidated by the test, but now they are ready.

There's no question that NCLB has benefited schools in many areas. But why do some schools continually miss AYP while others continually make it?

There is a big disparity between the haves and have-nots of education. Probably the largest of the 36 sub-categories we have to meet the standards in is students from low-income families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. When you go into schools with large free and reduced-meal populations, most of us are struggling to meet the standards, for lots of reasons: Most of our schools are in areas that are socially and economically depressed. They're high crime areas. It's hard to attract teachers in these areas. Then children who come to school with problems from home or the neighborhood require emotional support. This coupled with stress surrounding the state assessments often causes teacher burnout.

Saying to my teachers who face all these challenges, "Work harder," is a big mistake. My staff is working harder than anyone I can imagine. As an administrator, I've got to ask myself how hard I can push them before I push them right out the door to a less stressful place. So far, they are all hanging in for the children.

Rhonda Pitts
Bladensburg Elementary School, Bladensburg
For the last two years, we didn't meet the NCLB requirements in the special education subgroup. It's the one area that's catching us. We made significant progress in every other subgroup and category, including attendance. But our special ed scores on the MSA would have to improve in both reading and math in order for us to make AYP.

Our school is working on strengthening this area. We are implementing more special education inclusion classes, having our special education students go into the regular classroom settings to get whole-group instruction, then coming out for small-group instruction to help them improve their skills. We have sent special education and inclusion classroom teachers to workshops designed specifically to address the instructional needs of special education students. I'm not happy about being on the list, but if anyone were to walk into the school, I think they'd see that I have a stable staff -- which I didn't have when I arrived here five years ago -- and my teachers are certified (standard and advanced certifications); only a small percentage, mainly new teachers, have to complete a test or class for full certification. All these things play into the strength of our instructional program.

I think NCLB is basically a good law, because no school should leave any child behind. You want everybody to learn, you want everybody to make progress, you want to make good citizens, because that's good for everybody. But I don't think NCLB is properly funded. You need money to do the things that need to be done. In my school, I would have tutoring built into the school program. The tutoring students receive now is only for a short period of time and is provided by many different supplemental services providers. It should be ongoing from October through March and it should concentrate on the areas where the school has real needs.

If I can get the funds for the student and parent programs and teacher resources that Bladensburg needs, that's the key. There is money, but not enough and it is often geared for specific use. I get some monies from Title I, some from the state and some from the county, but not enough to meet the school's needs.

Malissa Parnell
Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School, Glenarden, Md.

Our school is on the list because we failed to meet the AYP mark for the past two years in the African American, special needs and economically disadvantaged subgroups. Anyone can easily argue that the test is not a "fair" indication of the day-to-day attention my staff gives to students. A test doesn't measure the time we spend counseling students who've lost parents for one reason or another. It doesn't measure the daily time we spend helping students resolve issues rather than resort to fighting or being combative and disrespectful toward adults and peers. There are so many facets of our students' lives that can't be placed on hold just because we are faced with meeting the established testing standard. But we feel encouraged each day that we are attempting to juggle our students' diverse needs while keeping them on pace with the established learning objectives.

Our students are often functioning two to three years behind their peers. So wherever and whenever possible we continue to go back and provide remedial services to improve the students' basic learning skills. We do it through daily drills and practice, learning centers and after-school tutoring programs.

We remain optimistic and positive about the gains the students are making. We realize that America has established a measuring stick and we offer no excuses for not attempting to meet the established mark, while at the same time we strive every day to meet our students' emotional and social needs.

Miriam Hughey-Guy
Barcroft Elementary School, Arlington

We were as surprised as the public when we did not make AYP. Three years ago, we did not make AYP in three of the 29 possible categories; two years ago in two of the 29; and last year in one -- students on free/reduced lunch, in reading.

Every year is different, each group of students is different, and every child is different. In one year, the students may be highly capable of passing the tests but may need study skills to assist them in performing at or above their potential. In another year, our grades include a high percentage of second-language learners who are just beginning to master English. In another, we may have students who are proficient in English but have low academic skills due to transience or deficient reading skills.

This year, as soon as we identified the students who did not pass the tests, or who our other assessments suggested may not pass, we designed an individual learning plan for each student and monitored each student's progress. Adjustments in each student plan have been made throughout the year to best meet the needs of the individual child. While we want and expect to make AYP this year, our goal is always and primarily the academic success of each student.
Darryl Williams
Gaithersburg High School, Gaithersburg

This is my first year as a high school principal, and my first year at this school. We are on the needs improvement list because in previous years, our ESOL students, those still learning English, as well as our special education students, did not meet their annual measurable objective in reading.

Last year, however, we made AYP in both reading and mathematics, so we have to make the same gains next year to get off the needs improvement list. We are making sure we have accurate records of our ESOL and special education students, and that we are providing the right accommodations for them on the tests.

I think what No Child Left Behind does about accountability is great. It really forces us to reassess how we are operating. But there are a lot of challenges. It is an ongoing struggle, because the goals change annually and our students' needs are growing.
Mark T. Murphy
George Washington Carver Elementary School, Lexington Park, Md.

We essentially started a "new" school in the 2003-2004 academic year. That year, due to redistricting, we had nearly 100 percent new students. In the two years that we have had these children, we have shown strong academic growth. But with the challenge of NCLB's rising bar, and the initial low performance of our children, we have not grown fast enough.

Our school has failed to achieve at a high level in the area of reading for two consecutive years. During the 2003-2004 school year, our subgroup of special education students did not make AYP. That year, only 1 out of 17, or 6 percent, of our special ed students achieved reading proficiency. During the 2004-2005 school year, that improved to 9 out of 30, or 30 percent, but our school continued to miss the mark in this subgroup. Additionally, during the 2004-2005 school year, our free and reduced meal subgroup did not make AYP in the area of reading. Put quite simply, our achievement gains in reading were not strong enough.

Our goal is to fully understand what each and every student knows and is able to do. To achieve this goal, we frequently administer, record and analyze student growth and achievement, using the standards as our guide. By identifying the root causes of our achievement deficiencies, we are able to focus our resources and differentiate our staff development. We don't make excuses, we find solutions.
Reem Labib
School for Arts in Learning (SAIL) Public Charter School, Northwest Washington

Our school is chartered as a general education school, but we offer an inclusion model for special education students that has rigor and high standards. Sixty percent of our 109 students have special needs. Our mission is to provide a quality education through differentiated instruction, using the arts as a tool to address the learning differences of our students. Many parents of children with special needs enroll them at SAIL because our student-teacher ratio is low: 16 students with a highly qualified teacher and a highly qualified teaching assistant.

Because SAIL Lower School did not make AYP last year in math, we are identified as being "in need of improvement." Last summer, we were notified by the charter board that we had not achieved AYP because we had only 32 students in our third and fifth grades, which is fewer than the 40 required for a subgroup to be reported. In the fall, SAIL was informed that we would retain the status of Year One "needs improvement" instead of Year Two since we did not have a large enough subgroup. This spring SAIL lower school is required to test third, fourth and fifth graders, as all charter schools will be doing.

My team and I wrote a school improvement plan last year that identifies specific objectives, activities and strategies for improving students' academic achievement in math. We are making an effort to increase parent involvement by helping parents understand how to reinforce at home what children learn in school. We recently held our second annual family math night, where we offer parents the opportunity to learn how to turn practicing mathematical concepts into games.

We hired a math coach who works with teachers and students in the classroom and also one-on-one with students. This was new for us this year, and we face the challenge of scheduling time for math intervention. Scheduling time for additional interventions is a challenge all schools are facing. We also used school improvement funds to purchase math software to help struggling students and a portable computer lab to be used in the classrooms.

I think that in general, No Child Left Behind sets high standards and expectations for all children, teachers and for the community, which must support the educational programs for all children in our city. We all know that there are flaws in the law that need immediate adjustment. NCLB is an unfunded mandate, and not all schools have the same resources. The structure of subgroups is a real problem. The D.C. office of education needs to address requirements for the special needs population, as many states are currently doing.
Sue Dziedzic
Oxon Hill Elementary School, Oxon Hill

The way I look at it, the No Child Left Behind law is very precise -- and not very flexible. And it's going to be a challenge for the school system and the state about what to do for schools that don't make AYP.

Schools have very different populations. We have a very large special education population. That's been a real challenge. For the last two years we have not been able to make the growth that's expected according to the law. Two years ago, we didn't meet it in one area of special ed -- math. And we didn't meet it in reading among our African American students. Last year we missed in four areas: both reading and math in special ed, African American reading and reading among our free and reduced meals kids.

Our special ed program has about 150 students [of a total student body of 408]. Some of my kids are mentally retarded, autistic, emotionally impaired. I have a blind child and some hearing-impaired children. If the kids are really not learning, we need to look at another placement for them. But most of our children are fine if we can modify the general education program to where they are instructionally. It's meeting them on grade level that's the problem. They get accommodations: We may read for them, or they may dictate to us. But they're still dealing with material that is much, much harder than what they're ready for. You look at modifying the curriculum, but it's hard. You want to teach them but you don't want to frustrate them.

Every year the bar gets higher. In 2003, every school was supposed to hit 46 percent proficiency in reading; last year, it was 58 percent and this year it's supposed to make 62 percent.

In the 2004 test, only 6.1 percent of my special ed kids were proficient. Last year, 20.5 percent were. So we're teaching our kids, but not enough to meet the state rate. You either hit the mark or you miss it. The same thing happened in math; we went from 3.0 percent proficient to 6.9 percent in the special ed category. They're moving and we're proud of it. And the state is seeing that special ed is where many, many schools are having difficulty, so it is going to modify the test for next year.

No Child Left Behind is not a bad law. Special ed is a long way from the days when we taught these kids to make cane chairs and brooms because we thought they couldn't learn. The law has lofty goals. It's a noble effort, but it does need to be modified.

I get my satisfaction from the fact that we are growing and my teachers are working hard. There's frustration, but there's also improvement on the part of our kids. The states say that if you don't meet the standards, we can come in and take you over. But you just can't take over that many schools. We're doing the best we can, but if someone can do it better, let them show us how. Because we're all ears.
Oxon Hill Elementary School, Oxon Hill

The way I look at it, the No Child Left Behind law is very precise -- and not very flexible. And it's going to be a challenge for the school system and the state about what to do for schools that don't make AYP.

Schools have very different populations. We have a very large special education population. That's been a real challenge. For the last two years we have not been able to make the growth that's expected according to the law. Two years ago, we didn't meet it in one area of special ed -- math. And we didn't meet it in reading among our African American students. Last year we missed in four areas: both reading and math in special ed, African American reading and reading among our free and reduced meals kids.

Our special ed program has about 150 students [of a total student body of 408]. Some of my kids are mentally retarded, autistic, emotionally impaired. I have a blind child and some hearing-impaired children. If the kids are really not learning, we need to look at another placement for them. But most of our children are fine if we can modify the general education program to where they are instructionally. It's meeting them on grade level that's the problem. They get accommodations: We may read for them, or they may dictate to us. But they're still dealing with material that is much, much harder than what they're ready for. You look at modifying the curriculum, but it's hard. You want to teach them but you don't want to frustrate them.

Every year the bar gets higher. In 2003, every school was supposed to hit 46 percent proficiency in reading; last year, it was 58 percent and this year it's supposed to make 62 percent.

In the 2004 test, only 6.1 percent of my special ed kids were proficient. Last year, 20.5 percent were. So we're teaching our kids, but not enough to meet the state rate. You either hit the mark or you miss it. The same thing happened in math; we went from 3.0 percent proficient to 6.9 percent in the special ed category. They're moving and we're proud of it. And the state is seeing that special ed is where many, many schools are having difficulty, so it is going to modify the test for next year.

No Child Left Behind is not a bad law. Special ed is a long way from the days when we taught these kids to make cane chairs and brooms because we thought they couldn't learn. The law has lofty goals. It's a noble effort, but it does need to be modified.

I get my satisfaction from the fact that we are growing and my teachers are working hard. There's frustration, but there's also improvement on the part of our kids. The states say that if you don't meet the standards, we can come in and take you over. But you just can't take over that many schools. We're doing the best we can, but if someone can do it better, let them show us how. Because we're all ears.

— Outlook
Washington Post
2006-03-12
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INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES


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