Education officials are worried about ramifications of No Child Left Behind law
Ohanian Comment: I challenge the notion that "the law is the law." Education needs a Helsinki Decision:
The Declaration of Geneva of the World Medical Association binds the physician with the words, "The health of my patient will be my first consideration,"and the International Code of Medical Ethics declares that, "A physician shall act only in the patient's interest when providing medical care which might have the effect of weakening the physical and mental condition of the patient."
By Shell Segal
The No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by the Bush administration in 2002. However, if major changes are not incorporated into the law -- and soon -- every school in the state of California will find itself penalized by the act.
This is because by taking just one test, the results of the students determine the success of the school as a whole.
By 2014, either all groups and subgroups of students become proficient at grade level or public education in California and throughout the country will be in turmoil, experts have said.
Linda Young, president of the Fontana Teachers Association, has issues with the act. Young said the act requires that all students in all groups and subgroups be grade-level proficient in just eight short years from now.
However, that is nearly an impossibility, Young said.
"I don't fundamentally disagree that we should be held accountable, but you have to look at where the students are when we get them and measure the growth by the time they leave you," Young said. "None of the growth that occurred below the bar is counted."
She uses a math analogy as an example.
"You have a 10th grader doing geometry who has fifth grade math skills," Young said. "You teach in one year up to the ninth grade skills. That's amazing progress, but they're not proficient because they're not at grade level."
Vicki Bartelt, program coordinator, school accountability for the Ontario Montclair School District, agreed.
"The fixed-bar model doesn't show the growth," said Bartelt, whose district is 85 percent Latino with just under 50 percent of the student population categorized as English language learners. "You don't take one test and say, 'This student's a success, this one's a failure.' You have to look at more than one piece of information."
It's that ELL factor that also gets Young upset.
"We test (ELL students) in English," he said. "They wouldn't be designated ELL if they were proficient, and, yet, we're going to make them test at grade level, too. You set up this impossible bar, which is frustrating."
One major problem with the act, Young said, are some students were just too far behind when the act was signed, which gave schools just two years for them to "catch up" and become grade level proficient.
"Not that I don't think kids need to be at grade level, but, for example, (special day class) students are at least two years behind, so how can you be at grade level?" Young said. "They want everything in black and white."
And the fact that one test is involved comparing different sets of students also doesn't sit well with her.
"It goes bad because it's based on one test," Young said. "Anytime you only do one assessment, it leaves too much room for variables. A good kid could have a bad day.
"It does not chart the individual student's growth. All it does is compare one grade level one year to the same grade level the next year. These are totally different kids. I see that as a problem."
In addition, Bartelt said 10 states are being allowed to apply for a waiver to modify the current situation, hoping to improve their adequate yearly performance, which is the scorecard the federal government is using to keep track of schools.
"The problem is our growth, meaning where we're not where the AYP would ask us to be," Bartelt said. "That's why our state is pushing for the use of a growth model, instead of a fixed-bar model. It doesn't indicate whether or not you're making progress. It just indicates how many kids can cross the high bar. And if one subgroup can't make it, the whole team fails."
Some subgroups are special day class students, ELL students, different ethnic groups and even economically disadvantaged students. Currently, just 26.6 percent of all subgroups in Fontana Unified School District are proficient, Young said.
In addition, Young said that the state of California, under the act, has set the proficiency bar at 80 percent, with 95 percent of students in each group and subgroup having to be tested.
But while just 47 percent of all schools in San Bernardino County are meeting their growth target under the act, Herb Fischer, county superintendent of schools, said at a recent education symposium that he is pleased with the progress being made county wide.
"We've had an 18-point increase in our (academic performance index)," Fischer said. "We've had 82 percent of our schools in the county show improvement."
WHEN A SCHOOL FAILS to meet its target growth, it falls into a category known as program improvement. If the school is in the fourth year of program improvement, it needs to come up with a drastic change in the way it educates students for that one test.
By year five in program improvement, heads start to roll.
One school in Fontana -- North Tamarind Elementary School -- found itself in year four. But principal Jason Angle wasn't going to let that deter him from improving the test scores.
North Tamarind is functioning under an alternative governance plan, which, so far, seems to be working, Angle said.
"If we are successful this year, we will be the first (year four) school in the state to exit the system," Angle said. "This school wasn't meeting test scores under a previous plan. We got jump started to (year two)."
Angle just figured it was better to cooperate with the act than to fight it.
"We have more than half of our students who are ELL," he said. "One of the keys to success has been coming to terms with this, to stop making excuses and start to dive into what it takes to help our students succeed, regardless of their economic or language background."
So, several new innovative programs were started at the school and the results are just beginning to come to fruition.
"If we have a large percentage of students who are ELL, then we'll start a more rigorous (English language development) program for them," Angle said. "We'll try to more closely match the special needs of individual students. We realized that parents had a difficult time helping their kids with homework, so we started a parent education program on campus.
"There has been a benefit. It has forced us to see how we're educating our students, especially our ELL students."
Angle said he might fundamentally disagree with the act, but not its intention. He's also said that the law is the law.
"This is the act we have to function under and the staff has risen to the occasion and responsibility," he said. "No matter what difficulties we face, we'll work harder to have students be successful and meet these targets."
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