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NCLB Outrages

Bangor: School officials at odds over No Child report

Ohanian Comment: Something odd is going on here. Either the citizens of Maine should be prostrate with grief, worry, and anger--shouting Mayday! Mayday! After all, 70% of their high schools have been declared failures.

Or they should be marching on the U. S. Department of Education demanding an explanation. Maybe they don't need to go to Washington. They can march on the office of the Maine Education Commissioner, who says the results point to the need for "action on high school reform."

If 70% of your students fail a test, don't you need to maybe ask if something might be wrong with the test? Why are education officials rolling over and playing dead for political mandates? Nichols and Berliner point out something in Collateral Damage, that educators and concerned citizens need to repeat again and again: Cut scores on tests, determining who is proficient and who is not, are political decisions. They are not scientific or psychometric decisions. (p. 87) Repeat: Cut scores are political decisions. I dream of the day one million teachers march on Washington, carrying banners: Cut scores are political decisions. Or maybe the signs should just say, We know it’s politics, Mr. Kennedy.

By Dawn Gagnon
Bangor Daily News
April 27, 2007

Only 36 of Maine’s 118 public high schools showed adequate progress this year for both reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to state officials.

The Maine Department of Education on Thursday released its annual list of high school academic progress as determined by results of the 2006 SAT given to all juniors in the state.

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said the results showed some areas of success but also pointed out the need for action on high school reform.

School officials in Bangor, however, called the results "misleading" and stressed that what needs to be reformed are parts of NCLB.

Despite the fact that as a school, Bangor High School students overall outperformed their peers on a statewide basis — ranking sixth in the state in terms of their average mathematics, critical reading and writing scores, the school has for the first time been placed on the list of 51 schools identified as "continuous improvement priority schools," or CIPS.

In the first year that a school does not show adequate yearly progress under NCLB, the school is placed on "monitor" status. If it does not meet the target a second year in a row, it goes to "Continuous Improvement Priority School" status.

The designation means that the school must work with state education department officials to develop an improvement plan and implement new strategies.Other schools in the Bangor Daily News’ coverage area that also made the CIPS list include Brewer High School, Belfast Area High School, Bucksport High School, Hermon High School, Calais High School, Penquis Valley High School, Caribou High School and Van Buren District Secondary School.

"I’m concerned that this is very misleading," Bangor Superintendent Robert Ervin said this week. "I would say at the very least that it is a mischaracterization [of Bangor High’s academic achievements].

"The Bangor School Department is delivering a quality product by any indicator that you have," Ervin said, citing the schoolwide range of advanced placement offerings, its rankings on the Maine Educational Assessment test and the relatively high number of graduates who go on to college.

He attributed Bangor’s having been placed on the monitor list to issues relating to two subgroups of students, namely those characterized as low-income and special education.

To achieve AYP status, each school must meet the proficiency target for the whole school and for five subgroups —American Indian/Alaskan Native, African American/Black, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, and students with disabilities.

In order for the school to meet AYP, the students in each of the five subgroups, as well as the whole school, must achieve established targets in both reading and math.

In addition, the whole group and all subgroups with 41 students or more must have 95 percent participation in the testing for the school to make AYP.

The reading target in the last assessment was 50 percent of students being determined "proficient," or meeting or exceeding the standards. In math, the target was 20 percent.

If any one of the subgroups does not reach the target in either content area, the school does not make AYP.

Schoolwide, Bangor met AYP with 62 percent of the 349 students who took the SAT meeting or exceeding the standards in both reading and math.

In the case of last year’s low-income subgroup, however, BHS was just one student shy of the 95 percent participation threshold. Fifty-four of the 58 students who identified themselves as economically disadvantaged took the test.

"I can tell you that the four who didn’t take the test were hard cases," Ervin said. Those students either refused to take the test or did not show up on the appointed day because they were habitual truants.

With regard to special education students, Ervin said that while many did well of the test, some students lacked the cognitive ability needed to take the SAT.

"It’s mean, as far as I’m concerned. It’s cruel," Ervin said, adding that the SAT requirement for those students was "demoralizing."

He and Martha Newman, who chairs the Bangor school committee, said they have enlisted the aid of the state’s congressional delegation to address the problem as the No Child Left Behind Act undergoes the reauthorization process.

As Ervin and Newman see it, the school’s special education program is one of its strengths and they have no plans to change that.

"People actually move here because of it," Newman said this week. Last spring marked the first time Maine used the SAT reasoning test as the state high school assessment for NCLB.

Before that, the state used the grade 11 MEA test.

The change has proven controversial among some school officials, Ervin among them.

"A test should give you an idea of how to improve, how to be better," he said. "The MEA absolutely did that," he said.

The SAT test, he said, "just gives you a number. There are better alternatives to the SAT that could have been created that would have both certified achievement and informed instruction," said Ervin, who is a former member of the Maine Department of Education’s Technical Advisory Committee.

Requiring that all third-year high school students take the SAT, however, is part of Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron’s strategy to get more students to apply for college.

In a news release issued Thursday, Gendron said she had heard anecdotal stories of "students who were not considering college now seeing themselves as possible college material."

According to the state education department, the AYP results show:

Thirty-six of the state’s 118 public high schools made AYP for both reading and math;
Nineteen schools did not make AYP for the first time;
Another 51 high schools were designated CIPS;
One school previously identified as a CIPS school, Hampden Academy, achieved its targets in the 2005-06 testing, but must do so for two years in a row in order to be designated as making AYP.

In addition, 11 schools have too few students to receive an AYP designation based on the single year’s test scores and will be designated after the 2006-07 test results are analyzed, later this year.

A complete list of the AYP results can be found at the Department of Education’s web site www.maine.gov/education.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

MDI High School fails to make grade for yearly progress
By Greg Fish
Maine Coast Now
May 2, 2007

BAR HARBOR — Just 30 percent of the state’s public high [sic] met the standards for Adequate Yearly Progress— and MDI High School is not among their number.

AYP is used to measure how schools in Maine are doing at meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The results this year were measured by scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test that was taken by all Maine high school juniors in 2006.

The Maine Department of Education last week announced the results of the SATs, and that report offered mixed results. 36 of the state’s 118 high schools met AYP for both reading and math, but 51 were shown to need improvement for a second straight year;19 did not make AYP for the first time — including MDI High School, which traditionally is thought of as being in the top flight of Maine schools academically.

Regardless of the AYP results, it still should be, says Union 98 Superintendent Rob Liebow. He points out that MDIHS as a whole met the yearly progress standard — but because the school had one subgroup that failed to meet that requirements, the school was placed on monitored status. The subgroups that must meet AYP include American Indian/Alaskan, African American/Black, economically disadvanted, limited English proficient and students with disabilities.

“Not only does the whole school have to make the cutoff, the subgroups do, too,” says Mr. Liebow. “It’s 50 percent meeting or exceeding standards in reading, 20 percent in math. For some subgroups, that can be almost impossible.”

Mr. Liebow adds that there was another reason many schools struggled with AYP this year — because it was the first year when the Maine educational Assessment test was not given to juniors, the measurement of whether standards were done involved just one year of data, rather than two as in the past.

“That was huge. It left no net for subgroups that struggle, and it showed up on the scores; there was no way kids with limited proficiency could be expected to do well.Ӊ€ť said Mr. Liebow. “Only 47 percent of all schools in the state met AYP for both reading and math.”

While the results are being taken with a grain of salt, Mr. Liebow said new strategies will be examined to see if some way can be found to improve the AYP of subgroups.

— Dawn Gagnon and Greg Fish
Bangor Daily News and Maine Coast Now


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