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NCLB Outrages

Three Different Views of How Vermont Schools Are Doing

Take a look at the NCLB headlines in three different papers--all purportedly describing how the the state schools performed on the academic performance targets set under NCLB.

Schools with failing grades up 500 percent
Brattleboro Reformer

More schools miss test targets; Federal education standards impossible to attain, some say
Burlington Free Press

State schools earn passing grades
Rutland Herald

The three articles are below.

Schools with failing grades up 500 percent
By Howard Weiss-Tisman
Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO -- Putney Central and Brattleboro's Green Street schools are among the schools to fall victim to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Across Vermont, 61 schools, or 22 percent of the state's public schools, were singled out for failing to meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the controversial federal mandate. Last year that number was 10, an increase this year of more than 500 percent.

The Vermont Department of Education on Thursday released this year's report on AYP, based on testing for grades 3 through 8.

Putney Central School and Brattleboro's Green Street School did not make AYP for the first time. Both traditionally have been some of the highest performing schools in the county.

Students from both schools scored well on tests in the past, but were marked this year for failing to raise the test scores for children from poverty.

Academy School, Bellows Falls Middle School and Brattleboro Area Middle School also failed to make AYP this year, according to data the Department of Education released Thursday.

The No Child Left Behind Act forces schools to administer standardized tests and show improvement every year, setting a deadline of 2014 for every student in the country to be proficient in reading and math.

As schools struggle to continually improve test scores and the bar is raised annually, the law is starting to affect a greater number of schools in the state.

The state uses test results, along with student participation rates for those tests and graduation rates, to determine a school's AYP.

Decisions on AYP are made by calculating a rolling average of data from the past two years.

Education Commissioner Richard Cate said the report this year reflects the increase in the number of students who were tested, and not necessarily a larger number of schools that failed to meet testing benchmarks.

This is the first year Vermont tested students in grades 3-8, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Cate said many small schools in the state that were testing only students in grades 2 and 4 now must give the tests to every student in grades 3-8.

So while in the past smaller schools slipped under the radar, this year the focus sharpened on those schools as more students were tested, Cate said.

Still, low income and special education students continue to struggle on the assessments and Cate said the federal expectation of having every student performing at grade level by 2014 is unrealistic and impossible to meet.

"Our goal has always been to have all students move out of special education, but the truth of the matter is that there will always be new students with those needs coming in the door," Cate said. "Anyone who thinks that that is going to stop is sadly mistaken."

Cate said Vermont has been more successful than most states moving students out of special education, and in improving test scores for children in poverty.

But the overall number of low-income children and of students in special education in the state has remained stable over the past few years, Cate said.

More work needs to be done helping families and Cate said investing in early education is one way to make sure students are getting the most out of their time in the classroom from the moment they walk in the door on that first day of kindergarten.

"There are many factors that affect kids outside of the classroom," Cate said. "All of the strategies that we use in the K-12 system are important but they pale in comparison to the disadvantages that the kids come to school with. The answer to this problem of closing the achievement gap is to eliminate poverty on this planet, but I think we are going to be struggling with this for a very long time."

Cate wants to use a different system to measure progress.

Instead of testing students at the grade level, Cate wants to use a growth model that would track specific students as they progress through the schools.

But the U.S. Department of Education is holding fast to its demand of having every student meet state standards by 2014.

And whether students are tested in their grades, or tracked through their school careers, Cate said most schools will eventually fail to meet the annual benchmark as long as the expectations are held at that level.

"The question we should be asking is, 'Are we helping each student get to a better place?'"

Schools do not face consequences of the federal education law unless they fail to make AYP for two consecutive years.

Schools must work with the Vermont Department of Education to develop a plan to improve scores in the third and fourth year, and may face more severe actions if they fail to make AYP for five and six consecutive years.

Both Brattleboro Union High School and Bellows Falls Union High School failed to make AYP last year.

The education department will release this year's AYP determinations for the state's high schools in the fall as the state moves to a new high school test.

The U.S. Department of Education would not allow Vermont to make those AYP determinations for high schools at this time.

The state in October administered the New England Common Assessment Program, a test that was developed in collaboration with the education departments from New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Students in Vermont in grades 3-8 were tested in reading and math, while writing tests were also given in grades 5 and 8.

The three states will begin pilot tests in reading, writing and math in grade 11 in November and will test all students in grade 11 the following year.

Science tests are expected to be rolled out for grades 4, 8 and 11 in spring 2008.

All of the schools in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union that failed to meet AYP were not able to raise English or math test scores of students on the free and reduced lunch program.

WSESU Superintendent Ron Stahley said the district was not surprised that those schools with large numbers of low-income students did not do well on this year's AYP report.

He said the number of children in the district coming from low-income homes is increasing and he said it is going to be harder and harder for those schools to raise the test scores of those students.

"There is no way with the standards we set that some of these schools will make the type of progress to meet those standards," said Stahley. "We know there are groups that are working hard to close that achievement gap. You can't base school performance just on these tests."

And Anne Rider, a curriculum coordinator for the district, said as hard as it is to address the issues that those students come to school with, focusing on their needs is part of the challenge.

"If we're not educating those students we need to do a better job of meeting those needs," Rider said. "These results force us to look at that with a magnifying glass. There is value in that."

She said the schools that are not helping low-income students meet the standards need to change the way they deliver instruction and teachers must be given the resources to help those students, as well as the other students in their classes.

"The schools can't do it alone. The best way is to engage parents in their kid's education and do things to help the parent support their kids," Rider said. "If the only disability these kids have is poverty we got to find a way to reach them. We can't keep doing more of the same thing if it is not working. The law says every group has to come up. It's a very lofty goal. But it's a good one."

Data for all schools can be found at the Department of Education's Web site: www.state.vt.us/educ/. Click on "What's New."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or (802) 254-2311, ext. 279.

More schools miss test targets
Molly Walsh
Burlington Free Pess

Free Press Staff Writer

A growing number of Vermont public schools are missing academic performance targets set under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Vermont Department of Education reported Thursday. Twenty-two percent of the state's public schools failed to meet adequate yearly progress goals this year, compared with only 3 percent in 2005.

More comprehensive testing pushed the number of schools missing yearly progress goals to 61, including 47 that failed to make the target for the first time.

The list includes many Chittenden County suburban schools that had previously made the grade, but this time around tripped up. The main reason: Low-income or special-education students scored significantly below students overall on standardized tests given in grades three through eight in October.

Schools in this situation include: Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond, Chamberlin Elementary School in South Burlington, Colchester Middle School, Essex Elementary/Founders Memorial in Essex, Essex Middle School, Hinesburg Community School, Shelburne Community School and Williston schools.

This means little for these schools now, but repeat flubs could trigger state oversight and bring pressure to make programming changes that cost taxpayers money. High-performing schools might also need to consider shifting resources so the few can better keep up with the many, because everyone is supposed to make the grade under No Child Left Behind.

Take Essex Middle School. Students there posted relatively high scores overall in math and reading on the New England Common Assessment Program tests used to determine adequate yearly progress, known as AYP. As a result, the school easily surpassed its target score index under the state accountability system.

"We blew that away," said Ned Kirsch, principal.

But scores among special-education students were below goals, and the suburban school did not meet No Child Left Behind standards this year.

"I certainly would hate for people to think that it was a knock on the school, that we're not doing something right," Kirsch said.

That said, the principal is confident the school can improve special-ed results and believes the testing data is useful. "We need to keep trying and figure out what works and what doesn't work. We need to get better, better at what we do."

He questioned whether any school can reach the No Child Left Behind's ultimate goals -- 100 percent proficiency in reading and math. He also said the federal government is not living up to funding promises with law.

In Burlington, five of the city's nine schools missed AYP because of low scores among subgroups or students overall. Winooski Middle School did not meet requirements in reading or math for all students or for low-income students. Milton Elementary missed AYP because low-income students and students with disabilities underperformed in reading and math.

President Bush signed No Child Left Behind in 2002. It requires annual testing for grades three to eight and one grade in high school. All schools are supposed to reach literacy and math proficiency by 2014 and close achievement gaps that for decades nationally have shown low-income students and certain racial minorities performing below other students.

Schools that miss targets one year face no penalties. Schools that receive federal Title I dollars -- funding for schools to help students who fall behind or are at risk of falling behind academically -- and miss goals two or more consecutive years face a range of accelerating sanctions if they don't improve. The harshest sanctions -- such as school closure -- have not come to pass in Vermont, and state officials have generally chosen a gentler approach to implementing the law.

Twenty Vermont schools have missed AYP in back-to-back years and are now identified by the state as needing improvement. Three schools are in corrective action -- meaning they have missed goals at least four consecutive years. Four schools exited identification for school improvement -- meaning they met goals.

The list of under-performers grew this year partly because of bureaucratic changes that have little to do with how much homework students are doing or what they are learning. Last year Vermont tested additional grades to fully comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. Because more students were being tested in each school, the schools had their subgroups -- such as low-income or special-education students -- factored in to the calculations. A school must have at least 40 students in a subgroup for a decision to be made for that group.

Vermont Education Commissioner Richard Cate expected broader testing to lengthen the list of schools not meeting goals. "That put a lot more schools into the mix under this calculation. It had to happen."

Schools can help special-education students improve, but Cate predicted it would be difficult for those with at least 40 students in this category to reach AYP because of the way federal formulas work. "The very definition of a special-ed student is a student who cannot achieve the standard," Cate said.

As for low-income students not meeting goals, Vermont must work harder to help them, Cate said. "We have to keep pushing and find strategies to address it, but it's not a surprise."

AYP determinations for most high schools will not be made until the fall, when test results for those grades are available. Contact Molly Walsh at 660-1874 or mwalsh@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com


Many Chittenden County schools missed academic targets set under No Child Left Behind for 2006.

Schools that did not make adequate yearly progress in Chittenden County: Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond; Chamberlin Elementary School in South Burlington; Champlain School in Burlington; Colchester Middle School; Edmunds Middle School in Burlington; Essex Elementary/Founders Memorial in Essex; Essex Middle School; Hinesburg Community School; H.O. Wheeler School in Burlington; Lawrence Barnes School in Burlington; Lyman C. Hunt Middle School in Burlington; Milton Elementary School; Shelburne Community School; Williston schools; Winooski Middle School.

For full results, visit the Vermont Education Department at www.state.vt.us/educ/ and click on the "What's New" link.

State schools earn passing grades
By Sarah Hinckley
Rutland Herald

Vermont schools received a C+ as far as leaving no child behind, according to results based on the New England Common Assessment Program for elementary and middle schools.

While that grade leaves room for improvement, some school officials say it is the testing system itself that should get detention.

Accountability determinations required by the federal government for 2006 were released by the state Department of Education on Thursday showing 22 percent of Vermont schools did not make adequate yearly progress this year. Last year, only 10 schools didn't make AYP, just five of those for the first time.

A school that does not make adequate progress for two consecutive years enters the "school improvement process." After four consecutive years of not making adequate progress, the commissioner of education can recommend action specific to that school. Although a school must show progress for all students, the adequate progress is based on subgroups of students according to race, socioeconomic status, students with disabilities and English language learners.

"Fundamentally, what you've got is a system that measures poverty not school quality," said Bill Mathis, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union. Two schools in his district, Neshobe Elementary School and Otter Valley High School, were on the list of schools entering year two for school improvement.

"Our poor kids are gaining much, much faster than our regular kids, but all our kids are improving," he said.

Statewide, four schools were dropped from the list for school improvement; two schools are remaining at corrective action; and one school entered corrective action.

Of the 61 schools that did not make AYP, 47 of those were first-time offenders.

What the numbers neglect to point out is the difference between two testing systems. NECAP is a test created by state education officials in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont to test students each year from third to eighth grade. The former test, New Standards Reference Exam, that once set the standard for the No Child Left Behind Act, concentrated on testing fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students.

"It would be like asking a kid, 'Last year you were five feet, 11 inches; this year, you're 160 pounds, how much did you grow?" said Mathis. "The comparisons are meaningless."

School year 2005 was the first year students in grades 38 took the NECAP test.

The test used in the 2004 school year was the NSRE, which evaluated grades 4, 8 and 10. Tenth-graders still were tested with the NSRE for the 2005 school year.

"We're having difficulty comparing these scores to the last scores," said John Stempek, the assistant superintendent of the Rutland City Supervisory Union.

The standard testing assessments are necessary for schools to receive federal funds. Educators have expressed frustration at how the testing standards are inconsistent and tend to focus on failure, if not contribute to it.

"There are literally 37 different AYP measures where schools can fail to make AYP under this law," said Vermont NEA President Angelo Dorta in a statement Thursday. "This law, and the laws of probability make it a certainty that more and more schools every year will get added to this list."

Among the 2006 results:

# 222 Vermont schools made 2006 adequate yearly progress.

# 61 schools, or 22 percent, did not make the AYP in 2006.

# Four schools moved out of the category of identification for school improvement, including Fair Haven Grade School, Rutland Northwest School and schools in Harwood and Vergennes.

# 20 Vermont schools were "identified" in 2006.

# Missisquoi Valley UHSD No. 7 was initially entered as needing corrective action.

# Mount Anthony Senior Union High School District and Mount Anthony Union Middle School both remained on the 2005 list as needing corrective action.

# Eleven schools entered Year Two school improvement, among them Neshobe School, Otter Valley Union High School, Rutland Intermediate School and Rutland Middle School.

# Three schools, including Bellows Falls Union High School and Rutland Senior High School, did not move from the Year 2 school improvement list.

# Sunderland Elementary School was entered into the Year 1 school improvement list.

# And both Brattleboro Senior Union High School and Burlington Senior High School remained on the Year 1 school improvement list.

# 47 Vermont schools did not make adequate progress for the first time. Among them: Academy School, Bellows Falls Middle School, Bellows Falls Academy Elementary, Bennington Elementary, Brattleboro Area Middle School, Green Street School, Orwell Village School, Putney Central School, Riverside School in Springfield, Windsor High School and Windsor State Street School.?

Contact Sarah Hinckley at sarah.hinckley@rutlandherald.com.

— Howard Weiss-Tisman, Molly Walsh, & Sarah Hinckley
Brattleboro Reformer, Burlington Free Press, Rutland Herald


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