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NCLB Outrages

Pressure to perform on STAR exams

Ohanian Comment: The PTA treasurer observes that if more than 5% of students opt out of the state test, the school is screwed. What she doesn't realize is that if 100% of students take the state test, the school is still screwed. Nationwide, the PTA should discontinue their cheerleading role for NCLB.

By Tom Dunlap

It's standardized testing season again in Santa Cruz County, and the pressure is on at some schools.

Twenty county schools are designated with the label of "program-improvement" PI, a designation that comes from the "No Child Left Behind" law. The federal law requires each school to meet specific academic goals. Schools that fail to meet expectations for two consecutive years are considered in need of special help.

Thousands of local students will soon take the STAR test, also known as the California Standardized Testing and Reporting test.

For program-improvement schools, the five-year mark is key. That's when several heavy-handed measures can happen, including: replacing school staff, implementing new curriculum, appointing an outside expert, extending school days or years, and organization restructuring of school.

Ohlone Elementary School, Freedom Elementary School, Starlight Elementary School and Rolling Hill Middle School have already hit that mark.

But fifth-year sanctions are really an unfunded mandate, some say.

"At this point, the state doesn't have clear guidelines as to what happens next," said Sylvia Mendez, director of federal and state programs for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, the largest district in the county.

Regarding the sanction of removing a school's staff, Mendez said that given the number of program-improvement schools in the state, "realistically, there's no way they could do that. They don't have the manpower to do that."

Meanwhile, hopes are high at program-improvement schools, such as Gault Elementary in Santa Cruz. There's a "very good chance" Gault will leave PI status behind after this round of tests, Gault Principal Mary Anne James said.

James said Gault entered PI status because of Title 1 students' performance in math.

To combat the results, the entire teaching staff has gone through many hours of extra training in math, and the school offers five math tutorials after school, James said.

"The teachers take this very seriously," she said.

One school that's on the bubble, or emerging from the bubble, is Ann Soldo Elementary in Watsonville.

The school is now what is designated a "Safe Harbor" school, an obscure part of program improvement.

"We didn't meet our AYP adequate yearly progress, but we brought so many of the lowest kids up that we stayed a first year school," said Ann Soldo Principal Sharon Peterson.

Many aspects of the STAR testing remain controversial. One of the most significant is that 95 percent of standardized test-age students must take the exam in order for the scores to count. But the test is voluntary, and many students opt out.

"If more than 5 percent opt out, even before they take the test, the school is screwed," said Liz Pollock, treasurer of the Gault PTA and a mother of a Gault student.

Pollock said the efforts of parents to prepare kids for the test is crucial.

"I'm convinced that only with the help from parents as volunteers ... will a PI school ever get out from under this dreadful status," she said.

Program improvement schools

The number after the school indicates the number of years the school has been under PI status.

Elementary schools

Alianza 2, Amesti 3, Calabasas 3, Freedom 5, Hall District 4, H.A. Hyde 2, MacQuiddy 2, Mintie White 4, Ohlone 5, Ann Soldo 1, Starlight 5, Gault 1.

Middle schools

E.A. Hall 4, Lakeview 3, Pajaro 2, Rolling Hills 5, Branciforte 2, Mission Hill 1.

High schools

Renaissance 1, Ark Alternative 1.

— Contact Tom Dunlap
Santa Cruz Sentinel


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