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One-quarter of Indiana Schools Labeled Deficient

"The law assumes everybody is going to run the mile at the same speed no matter how fast you are in the first time trial."
--Lawrence Township Schools Superintendent Michael Copper

Nearly one-quarter of Indiana's 1,828 schools have been flagged as needing improvement under the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools and districts that made the list did not meet one or more standards set by the state, based on fall 2002 ISTEP-Plus scores, Indiana education officials said Monday.

Some educators worry that schools on the list will be unfairly labeled low performers based on the scores of relatively small groups such as those who speak little English or who are in special education programs.

Practically speaking, however, the designation will have little impact with the exception of schools that qualify for special federal money targeting low-income students.

Out of 293 school districts, 197 were cited as having failed to make "adequate yearly progress," including all of those in Marion County except Speedway Schools. Even some traditionally high-performing districts, including Noblesville and Southern Hancock County schools, made the list.

The 422 schools that were flagged included 117 Title I schools, which have a large percentage of low-income students. In Marion County, only the Speedway and Beech Grove districts had no schools on the list. In IPS, 33 out of 79 schools were cited, including all the high schools and all middle schools except Douglass.

"The more diverse and the larger the school, the more chances there are not to make adequate yearly progress," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed.

Monday's announcement was the first time the state has listed all schools that failed to make progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In August, the state revealed the designations for Title I schools, which are the only schools that can face sanctions under the federal law. Those sanctions include allowing students to transfer and mandatory school reorganization after repeated failure to meet test goals.

The federal school reform law of 2001, pushed by President Bush, mandates that eight groups of students -- five racial groups, limited-English learners, low-income and special education students -- must meet state testing targets.

If any one group doesn't make its goal, the school is labeled as not making progress. A district can be cited if one particular group, across the entire district, doesn't meet state targets.

The most common reason for being named to the list, Reed said, was that special education students didn't make the test targets. A higher percentage of middle and high schools, which are usually larger than elementary schools, also was flagged.

Reed said the "achievement gap among some groups of students remains troubling."

Speedway Schools Superintendent Andrew Wagner agrees with many educators who support the intent of the federal law. But like many, he says the goal of getting 100 percent of each group of students to meet rising state standards by 2013 is unrealistic.

"As much as we want accountability, the way it's currently set up, based on flat scores for all groups, rather than improvement, eventually all of us won't meet adequately yearly progress," Wagner said.

The intent of the law is to ensure all children receive a good education by requiring schools to show progress, closing the gap between low-income and affluent students and racial minorities and whites.

States establish their own standards and determine what it means to be proficient on their tests. That makes comparing Indiana with other states difficult.

"Everybody's system is different," said Wes Bruce, assistant superintendent of the Indiana Department of Education. "You can compare, but it's a meaningless comparison."

Indiana's statewide passing rate target was 58.8 percent for the English portion of ISTEP and 57.1 percent for math in 2002. Schools can avoid being flagged even if they fail to reach those targets by improving their scores by 10 percent over the previous year. Fifty-two additional schools would have been flagged if not for this provision.

The 2003 list is due in May.

Even some top schools are on the list. Lawrence Township Schools Superintendent Michael Copper said Lawrence Central and Lawrence North high schools have been approved to offer a tough international baccalaureate diploma. But North was cited in the No Child Left Behind listing because of its special education students.

"The law assumes everybody is going to run the mile at the same speed no matter how fast you are in the first time trial," he said. "The law needs to be adjusted to account more for improvements."

— Barb Berggoetz
Indianapolis Star


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