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Utah Schools Fall Short of New Mandates

One in three Utah public schools fell short of new federal standards for student achievement, landing some on a "watch list" that could lead to extra tutoring, student transfers, even teacher replacement.

The standards, part of a new federal law called No Child Left Behind, hold schools accountable for the performance of all students by tracking standardized-test scores according to race and ethnicity as well as socioeconomic levels, English proficiency and special education status.

The law requires schools to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward the ultimate goal of 100 percent proficiency in language arts and math by 2014. Schools that collect federal Title I money for large populations of disadvantaged students face sanctions if they miss AYP goals for two or more consecutive years. Non-Title I schools face public scrutiny but no sanctions.

Many schools already analyze such student data. Trends inevitably emerge, enabling principals to steer resources and teachers to meet student needs.

"You have to have those conversations and develop understanding over time," said Ken Powell, principal of Highland High School in Salt Lake City. "If we don't do this as stakeholders, we can't make change."

Powell's school missed its AYP goals in language arts for students with disabilities and in math for English learners and the school as a whole. Consequently, Highland is on the so-called failing list with schools that fell short in at least one of 40 categories.

Along the Wasatch Front and across the nation, many schools failed because too few students in demographic subgroups passed or participated in state tests in language arts or math.
AYP reports for Utah's 800-plus public schools will be available today at http://www.usoe.org. Several trends surfaced in those numbers:

* Failure rates varied from district to district. Ogden had 52 percent of its traditional schools fall short while Jordan, the state's largest district, saw nearly half fail. But 14 districts, most of them rural, had all their schools make the grade.

* 87 percent of the 244 schools that missed the mark had low pass rates for students with disabilities.

* English learners were the next-most-likely group to fall short of AYP targets, affecting at least 75 schools statewide.

* All Title I schools in some larger districts -- including Salt Lake, Provo and Weber -- made the grade. But 14 Title I schools in Davis did not measure up.

* In Granite, nearly all of the 29 schools (20 elementary, eight high schools and one middle) that did not make AYP lagged in achievement for at least one of four subgroups: Latino students, English learners, low-income students and students with disabilities. Six of its 16 Title I schools did not make AYP.

* Likewise, 13 schools underperformed in Ogden, lacking in one or more of those four areas.

* In Davis, 33 elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school did not meet the pass rate in language arts for students with disabilities.

* More than half of Jordan's 78 schools missed AYP goals, many of them in language arts and math for students with disabilities.

* Achievement for students with disabilities is a consistent problem for some grade schools in Salt Lake City, while achievement for Latinos, English learners and low-income students are an issue for the district's four high schools.

None of those disparities should be a surprise. The gap between disadvantaged students and their classmates shows up year after year in standardized tests, graduation rates and other academic indicators.

Some educators dislike the law's expectation that students with disabilities and English learners perform on par with classmates who don't have such challenges to learning.

"I have a lot of serious objections to the way they're going about this whole thing, comparing one group of kids to a different group over a whole year," said Tony Bozich, principal of Newman Elementary in Salt Lake City. "I focus my efforts on making sure when a kid hits my school, they're getting the best learning opportunity, and let the chips fall where they may with AYP."

Newman fell short of AYP because too few students with disabilities passed the standardized test in language arts.

In eastern Utah's Uintah School District, high-performing schools on the east side of the district have long masked the struggles of schools on the west side, where large populations of disadvantaged students and American Indians have struggled to meet academic targets.

Breaking down test scores by ethnicity and income levels is forcing the district to confront the disparity, said Leonard Sullivan, the district's director of curriculum and instruction. "The one thing that is important for us to remember is it does make us focus on individual students rather than the group as a whole," Sullivan said. "It makes us do some things we maybe let slide because the average looked good."

AYP was less of an issue in the most rural of districts, where school populations are too small to be evaluated under Utah's AYP plan, which measures achievement for student groups of 10 or more.

At Grouse Creek School in remote western Box Elder County, there were only nine students in the grades that determine AYP status.

"We're going to have to rely on internal assessments to evaluate our schools," Box Elder Superintendent Martell Menlove said. "Not a lot of good data comes back to direct any type of instruction in those schools because it's so skewed."

— Ronnie Lynn
Schools Fall Short of New Mandates
Salt Lake Tribune


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