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NCLB Outrages

School test results bring confusion

NOTE: There's no mention of Congressman Joe Baca's bill bill to end NCLB testing requirements (Scroll down the page to see wording of the bill)

Jill Tucker

After six long years being tagged as a failure by federal standards, Malcolm X Academy was recast Tuesday as an unmitigated success story.

The small San Francisco elementary school met both state and federal benchmarks this year, rocketing up the state's ranking system by 99 points on the 1,000-point scale, according to the latest round of state and federal progress reports.

Yet that success could be short lived, at least from the federal government's perspective. During the next couple of years, Malcolm X is likely to be among the hundreds of schools in California that fail to meet the escalating demands required by the No Child Left Behind laws.

Even if the state views those schools as successes, federal officials will still see them as failures. That's because while both use the same standardized tests to measure academic achievement, they use two different systems that often come up with contradictory conclusions.

In short, the state cares about progress at schools like Malcolm X, while the feds care only about the finish line.

"Both provide a slightly different lens by which to measure progress," said state Superintendent Jack O'Connell. The result is "conflicting and confusing information" that doesn't serve anyone well, he said.

Barrage of data

On Tuesday, state officials released the annual barrage of data that includes the state's ranking system showing progress made by each school and district, mostly based on standardized test results. At the same time, it reported whether enough students locally and statewide were proficient in math and English to meet federal standards.

The federal system, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), requires a certain percentage of students at each school to test proficient in math and English each year. These results figure prominently in No Child Left Behind. For 2009, about 45 percent of students needed to reach proficiency in each subject for a school to pass muster.

This year, 51 percent of the state's schools met that federal target, down one point from last year. By way of a loophole for schools with low enrollment, Malcolm X made it for the first time. At Malcolm X, 26 percent of students reached proficiency in English and 56 percent in math.

But the federal finish line keeps moving from year to year. Next year, that bar rises to nearly 60 percent and by 2014, it hits 100 percent proficiency, a virtually impossible goal at any school.

The state system, the Academic Performance Index (API), uses a complex formula to calculate academic progress on a scale of 200 to 1,000, with the goal being 800. This year, 42 percent of the state's 10,000 schools hit the 800 mark, up from 36 percent last year.

While Malcolm X fell below 800, it posted an API score of 692 this year, well surpassing the state's requirements for improvement, which for the Hunters Point school was 10 points.

But with federal expectations higher next year, it will be difficult for Malcolm X to meet the AYP for a second consecutive year, a requirement to get off the federal watch list. The school has been on the list since 2003.

"NCLB, by giving this annual bar that gets readjusted every year and gets higher and higher, is not setting out a realistic target for schools," said San Francisco school district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. "More and more districts overall and more and more schools will be entering Program Improvement."
A call to revise

State and local education officials are calling for revisions to the No Child Left Behind law in the next few years to help address what they say are untenable benchmarks in the federal system. Schools that receive federal Title I funding and fail to reach those benchmarks for two years are put on a watch list called Program Improvement. Nearly 2,800 schools are now on the list statewide, 1,558 new to it this year.

Five years on that list means local education officials are expected to take drastic steps to turn the school around, which could include a reconstituted staff, new principal, conversion to a charter school or closure. A decision not to participate in the federal program could result in the loss of Title I funding for low-income students, which pays for a range of programs including staff and materials.

O'Connell hopes the Obama administration adopts a system more closely related to California's improvement model, but also includes a static finish line, something like an 800 on the API.

With a history of being among the lowest-performing schools in the state, Malcolm X was typically a place where students ended up rather than a place they chose to go. As enrollment dropped, the district considered closing it.

During its time in Program Improvement, the school worked to improve teaching practices, brought in tutors and math coaches and reduced the number of students sent to the office for behavioral reasons.

"It's a very high-needs population of students," Blythe said. "This is a sign that this combination of practices and programs is working. For us to see this 99-point growth is cause for celebration."
Malcolm X Academy

The school in San Francisco's Hunters Point enrolls 120 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
The students

Black: 51%

Pacific Islander: 25%

Asian: 5%

White: 7%

Hispanic: 6%

Low income: 93%

English learners: 14%

English-language proficient: 26%

Math proficient: 56%

— Jill Tucker
San Francisco Chronicle


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