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NCLB Outrages

Rising test standards sink more Kentucky schools

Monty Neill Comment: As state data has been accumulating, once again we see the inexorable march toward failing from 70 to 100 percent of each state's schools by 2014. The scores went up in KY, but the number of failing schools went up faster (see story below). Of course the articles is replete with quotes of educators promising to do more (with less, most likely). But it is a completely rigged game that cannot be won. The real solution is to ignore AYP since one is almost certain to fail, if not this year then in the next few, and focus on what can be done to actually teach well (which means scrapping most test prep, domination of tests over curriculum, and curriculum narrowing). But educators are under vast pressure...

It looks increasingly unlikely that NCLB will be reauthorized in 2010. Most insiders are saying 2011, which means there will be no relief from AYP. Meanwhile, the press is on via Tace to the Top (RTTT) -- and no doubt there will be other measures forthcoming - to pressure states to sign on to the just-released, still draft new 'national' standards and then to whatever tests are produced. Those tests almost certainly will be tougher to pass than those now in place in all but a few states. (I assume based on lots of comments about them that they will be pretty equivalent to NAEP's proficient levels, which were set by an egregiously flawed process orchestrated by right-wing activist Checker Finn, then head of the National Assessment Governing Board). If those come into play before reauthorization, the speed toward 100% failure will accelerate, and the number of states that will be headed there instead of a mere 70% or so failure will greatly increase.

Finally, Duncan wants to overhaul the 'bottom' 5% of schools, under RTTT. Little doubt many of them need a good deal of help, and some may be beyond that, but RTTT is not going to do that job well, based on the draft 'requirements' issued by the Department (as is pointed out in many of the comments to those requirements). What remains unsaid is whether this will eventually become a continuous process in which the bottom X percent is always subject to privatization or 'transformation' with mass firings. That is not even hinted at by the Department, but it has been policy in Colorado (I don't know if the policy has now changed).

By Antoinette Konz

For the third straight year, fewer Kentucky public schools met all their reading and math goals required by the federal accountability law, according to data released Wednesday by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Sixty percent of the state's 1,158 public schools met all their goals Γ’€” down from 71 percent last year and 78 percent in 2007.

The drop is more severe in Jefferson County Public Schools, where just 37 of the district's 133 schools met all their goals (28 percent), compared with 44 percent last year.

District and state officials say schools are not making progress fast enough to meet the rising standards of No Child Left Behind, which requires all schools to reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014.

"Each year, the bar is being set higher, and this year many of our schools could not make that jump," said Bob Rodosky, the director of testing and accountability for Jefferson County Public Schools. "The bar is going to continue to get higher as we get closer to 2014."

The scores leave 25 Jefferson County schools subject to sanctions Γ’€” ranging from student transfers to reorganization and a possible state takeover Γ’€” for missing those federal goals at least two years in a row.

That number would have been higher, but the district's new elementary student-assignment plan made many schools exempt because their student populations changed more than 20 percent.

Superintendent Sheldon Berman said that overall in Jefferson County, scores remained stable, but "I'm concerned that scores at too many schools are declining, an indication that we still have much work to do."

Other schools fared better. Atkinson Elementary, where more than 95 percent of students receive subsidized lunches, will no longer face sanctions after its reading and math scores climbed as much as 20 percentage points.

"We are very excited, because this is the first year since No Child Left Behind became a law that we have met all of our goals," principal Dewey Hensley said. "Our teachers and students have worked so hard, and it's nice to see that effort rewarded."

Statewide, 106 schools and 72 school districts are facing consequences for failing to meet their goals at least two consecutive years. However, Kentucky students at nearly every grade level performed better in most subject areas than compared to the year before, said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday compared the rising standards of No Child Left Behind to playing golf from a longer tee, which is frustrating educators."When people are polled about (No Child Left Behind), they say that it is not effective, in part because of the moving targets," Holliday said in a news conference Tuesday. "Parents do want testing, but it's more important to know what kids need in order to be successful. This kind of testing is only one part of the information."

Pleasure Ridge Park High School, for example, saw its test scores rise not only in reading and math, but also in science, social studies and writing on demand. But the gains weren't enough to meet the federal goals.

Γ’€œWe are doing better and we are improving, but we need to work harder to meet those standards,Γ’€ PRP principal David Johnson said.

Holliday said the state's focus will be schools and districts that are struggling.

"We have systems in place to help those schools, and there will be federal money available next school year," he said.

State overhauling testing system

The new test results come as Kentucky is in the middle of overhauling its state testing system.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, which eliminated the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, better known as CATS. The new law required the state to create a new state assessment program beginning in 2012.

But the law requires public school students to continue taking the statewide Kentucky Core Content Test each spring in reading, math, science, social studies and on-demand writing. The results of the reading and math test are used to determine whether the schools met their goals under No Child Left Behind.

Each year, schools are required to have a percentage of their students reach proficiency in reading and math and meet other criteria, such as participation in testing.

The schools are measured not only on their overall performance but on the performance of subgroups, including minority, low-income, disabled and limited-English students.

By design, the percentage of students who must reach proficiency rises every year, with all schools reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

For example, last year, 60 percent of elementary students had to test proficient in reading to meet the No Child Left Behind goal. This year, that number rose to 67 percent, and next year it will rise again to 74 percent.

The same is true in elementary school math, which jumped from 42 percent in 2007-08 to 52 percent this year and 61 percent next year.

Schools that receive federal Title I money for low-income students and that fail to meet their goals for two or more consecutive years are subject to increasingly harsh consequences, ranging from transfers to state takeover.

Schools that don't receive Title I funding and that fail to meet their goals two or more years will receive state assistance and resources, state officials said.

Schools struggle with rising standards

For a dozen Jefferson County schools, the results were particularly disheartening because it marked the first time they had ever failed to meet all of their goals under No Child Left Behind.

"We are disappointed," said John Ansman, principal at Tully Elementary, which fell short on reading scores for its African-American students. "But we are using it as a way to continue our focus on making sure that we give our students Γ’€Β¦ experiences in the area of reading."

At Bowen Elementary, which missed its reading goals among black, low-income and learning-disabled students, principal Stephen Tyra said he will use the results Γ’€œto identify students who are failing and match them with targeted assistance programs both during and after school.Γ’€

"It's clear that our instructional program is working for the vast majority of our students," Tyra said. "But we still have work to do."

Rodosky said he is disappointed with the district's overall results.

"We could have done much better in terms of reducing the number of novices and increasing the number of kids who scored proficient or higher," he said. "I know that we have good programs out there, but the test results just don't reflect the effort and work that is taking place in our schools."

Students at two of the district's middle schools that underwent a major transformation last year Γ’€” Olmsted Academy South and Olmstead Academy North Γ’€” scored particularly low in nearly all five subject areas.

The district spent $2 million to reduce class sizes, add technology and provide more professional development for teachers, many of whom had to reapply for their jobs. In addition, Olmsted North became an all-boys school, while Olmsted South became an all-girls school. But both schools posted low test scores.

At Olmsted South, 43 percent of students scored proficient or higher in reading and 27 percent in math. In addition, only 17 percent scored proficient or higher in social studies.

At Olmsted North, only 26 percent of students scored proficient or higher in reading and math. And only 23 percent scored proficient or higher in social studies and writing.

"There are challenges with reading that we really need to address," Olmsted North principal Bill Perkins said. "We added another master teacher for language arts this year, and I hope that will help us meet the needs of our language arts teachers more. I also think we need to give all of our teachers training in helping our students read critically in every subject area."

Rodosky said the district will soon meet with principals and ask them to "give us some insight as to why they think their students scored the way they did."

"There is something going on at each school that is causing at least some of these test results," he said. "Maybe there are too many programs and we need to get more of a focus."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Antoinette Konz with comment by Monty Neill


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