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Study Predicts School Failures

More than nine out of ten elementary and middle schools in Connecticut will fail to meet federal government standards for reading and mathematics within a decade, a new study predicts.

The study, commissioned by the state's largest teachers union, projects that only a handful of schools will meet the proficiency standard required of schools in 2014 under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

As more children are tested and as the goals are ratcheted up, the number of schools failing to make adequate progress will jump sharply, says a report by the Connecticut Education Association.

Teachers unions and other education groups have criticized the federal law because it is expected to cite large numbers of schools and impose penalties on those that receive Title I federal funds and fail to meet standards.

"By 2009, virtually all [Title I] schools fail," said the report by Edward Moscovitch, a private economist who based his predictions on current trends in statewide test scores.

The union's report, however, drew sharp criticism from a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.

"It's absurd," Susan Aspey, the department's press secretary, said Thursday. "First of all, the goal is that all kids will be able to read and do math on grade level. This report is saying that will never happen, so why bother trying."

The federal law, signed by Bush in 2002, calls for a broad expansion of testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to produce results. Schools that fail to make sufficient progress can be required to offer individual tutoring or to allow students to transfer to other schools. If the failure continues, schools can be subject to further penalties, including total reorganization.

The goal of No Child Left Behind is to have all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. On state tests given two years ago, about 19 percent of Connecticut's schools met the federal standard. The goal then was to have at least 57 percent of a school's students proficient in reading and 65 percent in math, but that goal will rise steadily over the next decade.

A school can be cited for inadequate progress if even one group of students - such as members of a minority group, special education students or children from low-income families - fails to meet standards.

The law requires testing of children in grades 3-8, affecting about 800 schools in Connecticut.

Moscovitch predicts that nearly half the state's schools with children in those grades will fall short by 2006 and that 93 percent will fail by 2014.

Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said current trends suggest that the teachers union report is accurate. "We have no reason to disagree with that projection," he said.

"It raises the question whether parents will view their school as deficient or the law as deficient," he said.

Other states, too, predict high levels of failure. About 45 percent of California's public schools already fall short, and trends indicate that 99 percent will miss the mark by 2014, said William Padia of the California Department of Education.

"It's not surprising," he said. "That should be true everywhere in the country, given the way [the law] is structured."

Earlier this year, school chiefs from more than a dozen states, including California and Connecticut, asked U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige to allow states with strong testing systems more flexibility under the law.

Gerald Bracey, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia and an outspoken critic of the federal law, said, "If every school fails, you get zero information about what works and what doesn't."

— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant


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