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NCLB Forces Parents Into Tough Choice

Parents at two Wake County elementary schools are the first in the state this year to face a No Child Left Behind dilemma -- should they stay with schools that fell short of federal standards or transfer out?

Wake released preliminary data this week showing that Hodge Road and Lynn Road schools did not meet goals and must permit transfers to other schools.

But principals and school administrators are pointing to other test data to argue that the schools are doing well and that families should stay.

"It's a big decision, and we don't have much time to make it," said Cheryl Whelan, a parent at Lynn Road Elementary School.

This is the first year that the major effect of No Child Left Behind is being felt. The law requires schools to measure categories of students on the basis of race, family income, English proficiency and other factors. If any group doesn't meet standards on state tests, the entire school is considered deficient.

Hodge Road school in Knightdale and Lynn Road school in North Raleigh fell short because of the performance of students with learning disabilities on last month's state end-of-grade tests. All other groups exceeded the minimum passing rate of 68.9 percent in reading and 74.6 percent in math.

Hodge Road and Lynn Road receive federal money from the Title I program, which helps schools with high percentages of students from low-income families. Any Title I school that doesn't pass for two straight years must allow families to transfer out if they choose.

"If you don't reach the numbers, you've got to give parents transfer choices," said Lindalyn Kakadelis, director of the N.C. Education Alliance, a project of Raleigh's John Locke Foundation.

About 500 Title I schools statewide might have to allow transfers this year. So far, Wake County is the only system to release a list of schools that did not meet standards. The state will release its data July 19.

Not the whole picture

Wake doesn't want students to leave. Officials are concerned that the loss of too many students, especially high-achieving ones, could damage both schools.

Cindi Jolly, Wake's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the all-or-nothing requirements of No Child Left Behind mean a school can fail because a few students might have had a bad day.

"We don't know where those students were before," Jolly said. "We don't know if they were at the school the previous year or what was their passing rate previously. When you're looking at a very small group of students, the results could be different each year."

Wake officials are putting more emphasis on how the schools are evaluated under the state testing program.

The passing rate on state tests has risen at Hodge Road from 71 percent in 2000 to about 86 percent this year. During that same time, the passing rate has climbed from 76 percent to about 86 percent at Lynn Road.

Last year, both schools were named Schools of Distinction by the state for having passing rates over 80 percent and for showing growth on the tests.

"We're frustrated that the government has labeled us a failing school," said Lynn Road Principal Sylvia Faulk. "We're meeting 90 percent of our targets, and our students are showing high growth. That's not a failing school."

The school system will mail letters to parents Monday informing them of their choices. Officials need an answer from families by June 21 about whether they will transfer.

Knightdale and Brentwood elementary schools are the two schools that Hodge Road parents can transfer to in the fall. Lead Mine and Stough elementary schools are the transfer choices for Lynn Road parents.

Lynn Road's Faulk and Hodge Road Principal Jamee Lynch said they've only heard from parents who intend to stay and are upset about the negative effect on the reputations of the schools.

Michael Teague, a Hodge Road parent, blasted No Child Left Behind as being an "injustice" to the schools.

"Whenever you're trying to do a lot of good things with some really struggling kids, whether it be poor or disabled, it really makes your statistics look bad," Teague said. "It's a real shame they've been singled out when they're doing a wonderful job."

Robert Gibson, a Lynn Road parent, said he wouldn't mind if some parents leave because they'll be the ones who lose. That would lower the class size in what he feels is an already good environment.

Limited options

Neither Faulk nor Lynch expects many parents to leave.

"Just because of a flawed piece of legislation, I don't think parents are going to want a different school," Lynch said.

If few leave, Hodge Road parent April Morton said it might be because Wake is giving poor transfer options. She said Brentwood Elementary is too far away in northeast Raleigh and that Knightdale Elementary is too academically similar to Hodge Road.

"They know the parents who will do their homework," Morton said. "They'll stay because there's no difference. You might as well stay."

Wake won't let parents transfer to year-round schools, which are among the highest-achieving schools. They also ruled out new schools, such as Forestville Road Elementary in Knightdale, because they don't have a track record.

Wake also excluded schools above 115 percent capacity and those that didn't pass last year.

With time so short, Whelan of Lynn Road said she'll do her research.

"It's worth it to go through whatever hassles," she said. "I have to do what's best for my daughter's education. I may call a few people to get some answers."

TRANSFER TIMELINE
MONDAY -- Letters will be mailed to parents notifying them of their choice options.

JUNE 21 -- Deadline for parents wishing to request a transfer. A completed form must be submitted to the school system and stamp received by 5 p.m.. Forms can be mailed, faxed or hand-delivered.

JULY 19 -- State officially announces which schools didn't meet No Child Left Behind standards.

AFTER JULY 19 -- Letters will be mailed notifying parents of selected school, the process for declining a transfer and the availability and type of transportation.

AUG. 3-9 -- Schools will notify parents of transportation arrangements.

AUG. 10 -- First day of classes.

WAKE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM

— T. Keung Hui
News & Observer
2004-06-05
http://newsobserver.com/news/story/1305105p-7427472c.html


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