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NCLB Outrages

Utah School Chiefs Called into Emergency Meeting Over NCLB

The state's school boss is calling superintendents into an emergency meeting Monday to go over issues with controversial No Child Left Behind draft reports.

The issues center on whether schools are making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) to improve education, a federal hurdle they must clear to avoid being publicly labeled as not passing muster.

In some cases, schools may have improved test scores, but not enough children took the tests and special-education students didn't score high enough. Even just one bad mark on a list of 40 will sink a school.

"(The State Office of Education) has identified specific data explanations for these issues and would like to meet with you to discuss the implications of correcting these data issues," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Laing wrote in a Thursday e-mail to all 40 superintendents.

"Possible implication is a delay in the public release of data as well as a change in AYP designations for schools."

The AYP reports are to go public Dec. 8. Districts have been scrutinizing draft state data for the past two weeks.

Laing was out of the office Friday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

But his e-mail has intrigued local superintendents.

"We're all very curious on what this may mean," Jordan Superintendent Barry Newbold said. "This has to be something critical to the accuracy and release of that report. That's how I've interpreted (the e-mail) I have here."

The hubbub is over the federal No Child Left Behind Act, aimed at ensuring all children, regardless off ethnicity, income, disability or English skills, succeed in school.

That success is measured through "adequate yearly progress."

Districts must publicly report which schools made AYP and which didn't. High-poverty schools receiving Title I funds that don't make AYP two years in a row are placed on a "schools in need of improvement" list, which some have called the "failing schools list," and must notify parents they can transfer to a higher-scoring school. Further sanctions, and ultimately, a state takeover, may follow.

Facing punishments makes schools bristle.

But worse, some indicate, are the way schools might wind up in that position.

AYP is measured for every student group in three ways: Schools must improve on statewide tests; 95 percent of kids have to take the tests; and elementary schools must post 93 percent attendance rates, and high schools, 85.7 percent graduation rates.

So if a school has 40 Hispanic students, and three are at home sick on testing days, the whole school fails the progress standard.

That issue apparently is playing out in many school districts. And some schools are questioning the process.

Some wonder how the state came up with test participation rates, Weber School District spokesman Nate Taggart said. Some principals, for instance, say numbers don't jibe with school enrollments. Others wonder how the state is accounting for students who move in and out of the school during the year.

There's also a problem with the attendance rule.

Basically, the state didn't require schools to report attendance until No Child Left Behind took effect in 2002. So the state has attendance records for last school year but not the year before, leaving nothing to compare it to, Associate State Superintendent Patti Harrington said. And AYP hinges on comparison.

Accuracy also is a sticking point.

"If we've got data, and if the data are not correct, then it's tough to use them as a tool to make adjustments and do things we need to do to help kids learn better," Granite Superintendent Steve Ronnenkamp said.

Also, some states have erroneously flagged some schools as failing to make AYP in their rush to publicize reports, Salt Lake Superintendent McKell Withers said. While they correct the misinformation, the damage is done.

Withers doesn't want Utah to follow that example.

"If there are portions of the data that can be corrected to give a more accurate picture at a school level, delaying the use of adequate yearly progress would be an appropriate thing to do."

— Jennifer Toomer-Cook
Schools on edge over reports
Deseret Morning News


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