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NCLB Outrages

Marlboro in hot water over lack of test results

Either education is local or it isn't.

By Howard Weiss-Tisman

MARLBORO -- The Marlboro Elementary School Board has found out that there is more than one way to draw a line in the sand opposing the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

When the Department of Education released its adequate yearly progress determinations Friday, Marlboro was put on the list of schools that did not make yearly progress because too many parents kept their children home when the tests were given earlier this year.

According to data released Friday, 92 percent of the eligible children at Marlboro took the tests. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to have at least 95 percent of its students in attendance when the tests are taken.

This is not the first time the school challenged the state over standardized tests.

About two years ago, the small K-8 school said it would not administer the standardized tests required by the federal education law.

Vermont's education commissioner then came down to Marlboro and threatened to pull the licenses of the principal and superintendent if the tests were not given.

The school eventually relented and administered the assessments to its students.

This time, school board members said the Marlboro parents were given the option of allowing their children to sit out the tests, and so now Marlboro will enter its first year on the state's list of schools that did not make yearly progress.

"We have a policy which says that if parents feel strongly that kids should not participate, they can send a letter that says that, and we will respect those wishes," said Marlboro School Board member Andy Reichsman. "We had a number of families this year who made that choice."

In a small school like Marlboro only a few students can make a difference, and Reichsman said that while the school did well above average on the test results, the school was singled out for not meeting the minimum in the participation rate.

Reichsman was on the school board when Education Commissioner Richard Cate visited in 2004, and he said the school did not want to lock horns again with the education department.

Even though the school promised to give the tests; the school administration, the board and the parents never got on board with seeing the value of giving the standardized tests, Reichsman said.

"We respect Commissioner Cate and we appreciate that he came to visit and meet with us and the community," said Reichsman. "We wanted to be good. We didn't want to create turmoil. But these tests are not going to tell us anything about the children that we don't already know, so we felt that the appropriate thing to do was to leave it up to the families."

Cate just heard about Marlboro's results and he did not want to get too far ahead of any decision he might be forced to make. He said he did not know if the school actually encouraged the parents to keep their children home but he said, "I imagine that I will be having a conversation with the folks down there."

The federal law is very clear, Cate said, and while neither the federal nor the state government can force parents to have their children take the tests, the school must do what it can to make sure as many tests are give as is possible.

"The parents have that option, but it just means that the school will be identified," said Cate.

When schools fail to make progress on math or English tests the education department has a raft of consultants who can help the administration and teachers with professional development.

Cate said he was not sure what the state would do if Marlboro continues to fail to meet attendance benchmarks on the testing days.

Marlboro School Board Chairwoman Lauren Poster said the board heard about the yearly progress determination this week.

She supported the school's decision to allow parents to decide who will take the tests.

Poster said the strict federal guidelines force special education students to take the tests even though they are way above their learning abilities.

And she said the board was not going to force a child and his or her family to go through something like that.

"Some of those students are really traumatized by taking the tests and it should be between the teacher, the principal and the parent to make that decision," Poster said. "We will not push this on a student who will not benefit by it."

Poster also said the school was not looking to make a statement. The education department ordered the school to give the tests and she said that is what the school administration did.

"I know how well our school does and I trust that the teachers have good methods," she said. "I don't think these tests aid that process in any way."

Marlboro Elementary School consistently shows strong test results on the annual assessments.

On the 2006 tests, Marlboro scored at or above the state average in all areas.

Kathy Pell, a Marlboro parent who decided to allow her eighth-grade student to miss the test this year said she wanted to support the school.

Her son is not in special needs and does well on the tests, she said, but the family talked about it and decided to let him spend time studying in the library while the tests were given.

He never particularly enjoyed taking the tests, she admitted, but they decided as a family to make a statement.

"In the past the school did not want to give the tests and I supported that," Pell said. "I don't support the method of judging schools based on those tests. It does not seem the best way to measure the quality of a school."

Pell said the community and standard of education at Marlboro is among the best in southern Vermont. The parents know that without seeing it on any test result print out.

"Those test results can be read a lot of different ways and we don't want our school to be read like a statistic," said Pell "It's a small school with a high sense of focusing on the individuality of every student and that's a good thing."

— Howard Weiss-Tisman


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