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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Assessment Tests May Set Some Students Up For Failure

Kudos to a state education functionary for speaking out, for speaking truth to power.

By Taylor Reed

ST. JOHNSBURY -- School officials shouldn't beat themselves up too much over a failing grade on No Child Left Behind assessment tests this year and three other times in the past.

School districts like St. Johnsbury with subgroups of more than 40 disabled students have little chance of meeting federal requirements, said Jill Remick, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Department of Education, on Tuesday.

In St. Johnsbury, students with disabilities failed to meet requirements in math and reading this year.

Vermont defines disabled students as those who perform below their grade level, Remick said. Disabled students, however, must take tests at their grade level.

"It's really setting those kids up for failure," Remick said. "Some teachers argue it's stressful on those students because they know they can't pass."

St. Johnsbury School has 53 students with disabilities, which means those students count as a subgroup. Subgroups are graded apart from other students but must meet the same standards or the whole school is identified as not making adequate yearly progress.

"Any school with a disabilities subgroup is much more likely to get identified," Remick said. "I think each year there are going to be more and more schools added to the list."

There is federal legislation aimed at making tests more flexible by allowing out-of-grade testing for disabled students, but there have been no changes yet, Remick said.

Aside from students with disabilities in St. Johnsbury, there's another subgroup of 243 students in the free and reduced lunch program.

"The free and reduced lunch program is a much different story than students with disabilities," Remick said.

St. Johnsbury students in the lunch program, who account for about 63 percent of the 385 students tested this year, met requirements in math, but not reading, according to information available on the Vermont Department of Education Web site under "School Data & Report." Last year, the students met requirements in both subjects.

On average, however, students in the free and reduced lunch do not perform as well as students who are not in the lunch program or disabled, Remick said.

"There's definitely a performance gap," she said.

Performance problems with students in the lunch program often stem from factors outside of school, such as a lack of breakfast or parents who don't pressure them to do homework, Remick said.

The performance gap between low-income students and their peers is a national issue and a big focus for the state of Vermont, she said.

Remick, like St. Johnsbury School Principal Marion Anastasia, stressed that results from No Child Left Behind tests are only one measure to gauge student performance.

"I would reiterate what Marion said, this is just one measure," Remick said. "Local tests are a much better measure of how individual students are doing."

— Taylor Reed
Caledonian Record


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