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NCLB Outrages

Report analyzes Iron County schools

Siu-Runyan Comment: GEEZ, why don't we ever see reliability or standard error of measurement numbers when tests are reported. And DUH, of course, different groups of students test differently.

By Joy Cooney

The Iron County School District released the 2005 annual performance report in January, revealing district-wide “sufficient” and “substantial mastery” on all grade levels and in all tested curriculum, except one subgroup from one school in one subject.

Jim Johnson, Iron County School District superintendent, said Cross Hollows Intermediate School’s students with disabilities subgroup did not meet the No Child Left Behind standard for language arts this year.

“Our focus then became finding out what caused that, analyzing the needs of individual students within the subgroup, and changing teaching strategies to meet those needs,” he said.

The annual performance report is required by all schools as prescribed by the NCLB Act signed by President George W. Bush in January 2002. The end-of-level tests assess students’ knowledge of the Utah Core Curriculum in math, science and language arts.

Johnson said the tests indicate where teachers and administrators need to focus for improvement.

“The NCLB tests are an all-or-nothing kind of thing,” he said. “One subgroup affects the entire school’s record.”

Cross Hollows Intermediate met the proficiency standards for Utah Performance Assessment System for Students.

“In many ways, the U-PASS accountability program is more stringent than the NCLB accountability program because it also measures academic growth for each student,” Johnson said.

Terry Pickett, Iron County School District director of elementary education, said achieving the Adequate Yearly Progress standard is more challenging for larger schools.

“The way the formulas are set up, the larger the school, the more difficult to pass AYP (and) NCLB,” Pickett said. “When the N-size of a subgroup is larger, it becomes easier for a subgroup to impact the success of the school performance.”

The addition of Iron Springs Elementary and Three Peaks Elementary schools and the conversion of Cross Hollows Intermediate School to Cedar Middle School will ease the burden of growth, but is not expected to improve overall end-of-level test scores, he said.

Pickett said test scores did not affect boundary changes.

“We were very aware of and made attempts to balance or distribute low-income neighborhoods into a variety of schools,” Pickett said.

Low-income students’ test scores are comparable to other students, he said.

Distributing students according to number of students per classroom is a primary factor in determining boundaries, he said.

Fiddlers Canyon Elementary Principal Ray Whittier said class size is only one of many factors contributing to test results. The teachers’ guidance and the parents’ support also affect students’ test scores.

Jerry Bowler, SUU Department of Elementary Education and Department of Secondary Education chair, said student motivation and the teachers’ ability to teach toward understanding are academic factors that contribute to test scores, but environmental factors also contribute.

He said English spoken in the home, learning disabilities, behavior, the parents’ attitudes toward education, a computer in the home, sleep and nutrition can each contribute to a child’s proficiency.

“How did the child feel on the day of testing, or did something happen at home?” he said. “These are all factors going into it.”

Bowler said district scores are affected by a variety of factors, including a change in course materials or testing procedures that educators are unfamiliar with and need time to adapt to.

“Groups of kids make a difference too,” he said. “Some groups just test better than others.”

He said, for example, it is more accurate to compare second grade end-of-level test results to the previous year’s first-grade test results, rather than the previous year’s second-grade test results.

Pickett said some educators see the NCLB Act as “both good and bad.”

On the upside, educators are more effective now, he said. Educators assess data differently, allowing the focus to shift toward helping individuals and subgroups achieve academic success.

“On the negative side, the national goal of 100 percent of the students mastering the curriculum (by 2014) is an impossible goal,” he said.

Whittier said he agreed.

Ninety to 95 percent of students mastering core curriculum by 2014 is a reasonable goal, but 100 percent is unrealistic, he said.

“Will doctors lose any patients after 2014?” he said. “Or will dentists see any cavities after 2014?”

Whittier said despite the improbability of meeting the end goal, he is seeing yearly progress.

“We are reaching more kids than we have in the past, so it has had a positive impact,” he said.

The annual progress report for Iron County public schools can be found at www.iron.k12.ut.us/do/2005/report05.htm.

— Joy Cooney
SUU Journal


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