Stratford superintendent rips 'No Child' mandate
by Richard Weizel
STRATFORD — The federal "No Child Left Behind" mandate is written so stringently it may actually end up leaving school districts such as Stratford behind and vulnerable to federal and state takeover, Supt. of Schools Irene Cornish told a group of South End parents and residents this week.
Cornish said the mandate, which requires 90 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math in four years, and all students by 2014, is all but impossible to achieve in Stratford and most other school systems.
She said if the mandate is not changed by Congress soon, the law's impact could be catastrophic because consequences of not meeting the requirements include state or federal takeover of individual schools or entire school districts.
"School districts could lose local control of their schools," Cornish said.
"But I don't see how the state will possibly be able to provide the personnel or resources to run local school districts, particularly in the larger cities."
The Stratford district has been identified as "in need of improvement," but could fall into a far worse category in the coming years as the federal law's mandates become increasingly tough to reach, Cornish said.
While the district's overall rating on Connecticut Mastery tests and Academic Performance tests meet standards for proficiency in reading and math, several groups of students defined under the law are not at the required levels in either category, Cornish said.
She said in the future, under the mandate, all it will take is one group to fall below proficiency for an entire district to be considered failing.
About 40 parents and residents heard Cornish address the monthly South End meeting Wednesday night in the Birdseye Municipal Complex, many expressing fears about the mandate.
"I think what's going to happen as time goes on is that more and more school districts won't meet the standards because of groups that cannot keep up," Cornish said. "Congress will have to make changes to this law. Some of these kids who are cognitively delayed cannot make grade level and it is unrealistic and unfair to expect them to."
The superintendent said it is also unfair to penalize a school or entire district because of students who fail the tests due to factors beyond their control, or the control of under-funded school districts that have had cuts in state and federal aid.
For example, while Stratford students score well overall on the Connecticut Mastery Test, with an 81 percent proficiency rate in math (7 percent above the requirement), only 69 percent of blacks, 72 percent of the economically disadvantaged and 43 percent of students with disabilities are proficient, Cornish said.
While 73 percent of local students overall are proficient in reading, 5 percent above the requirement, only 30 percent of students with disabilities and 45 percent of English language learners meet the requirement.
Parents complained that students with learning disabilities and those learning English as a second language cannot be expected to meet the proficiency levels.
But Cornish said there is some good news, too.
She said compared to other school districts in the 15-town District Reference Group established by the state, which includes Stratford, local students are ranked first in writing, and second in reading and math among fifth graders.
She said sixth-graders are ranked first in writing, and eighth-graders third in math.
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