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NCLB Outrages

Thirteen Schools Join Warning List, 13 Removed

Ohanian Comment: Here's a new, bizarre twist: schools are penalized for not testing students who move away.

Twenty-six South Jersey schools have been added to or subtracted from an early-warning list of those not making adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

The New Jersey Department of Education yesterday released the list, a revision of one issued last fall.

Technical problems had forced a reevaluation of the progress of schools, based on 2002-2003 test scores. As a result, there were status changes for 109 schools statewide.

Among them were 26 from South Jersey, with 13 making progress and 13 falling behind. None of the schools will be penalized. They must, however, evaluate their curriculum and try to improve before next year.

Later this month, a 2004 list of schools not making the grade will be issued, and some of the schools that made the early warning list could be removed. About 729 of 2,500 schools in New Jersey are on the early-warning list.

Schools are listed when they fail to meet one of 41 success indicators outlined by the Education Department.

State Education Commissioner William Librera again called the implementation of the law unfair, saying some districts had been added to the list for insignificant reasons.

"Small changes in the test data shouldn't have that large an impact on a school's [Adequate Yearly Progress] status and its reputation," Librera said. "It is bizarre to label many of the fine schools throughout this state as not making AYP when, clearly, our students are doing well and have been showing progress."

Those reasons, said department spokeswoman Kathyrn Forsyth, include a drop in student participation in testing. If a student leaves a school before the year ends, the federal law does not allow the school to count that child among those who were tested that year. The departed student could contribute to a school's having less than the 95 percent minimum of students the law requires to be tested.

While the state notified districts on Thursday, many local officials were on vacation yesterday and unavailable for comment.

In Cherry Hill, one of the region's top school districts, the 40-student Alternative High School was added to the early-warning list. Gail Cohen, an assistant to the district's superintendent, said the high school was part of the district's two general education high schools - Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West. Both high schools are already on the list.

"The students are from East and West, so it's not like they [the state] are really adding us to the list," Cohen said. "Those students are just put into the AYP of East and West."

Like many administrators and educators, Cohen heralded the good intent of the law but criticized its implementation, saying it forces unfair expectations on the students and schools.

Signed into law by President Bush, it was designed to make school systems more accountable for student achievement. It includes sanctions on schools that fail to increase test scores of subgroups of students, including special-education students and students with limited English. It also requires that students be tested annually in grades three through eight and at least once in high school.

Cohen said that Cherry Hill had narrowed the gap between white and minority students long before the new law. Last year, language-arts test scores for black and Latino students rose 10 and 13 percentage points, respectively, she said.

For Moorestown district superintendent Paul Kadri, the removal of Moorestown High School from the early-warning list was not a surprise. He said the school's test participation numbers were recalculated, pushing the school over the required minimum. He said flaws in the law made it difficult to get excited about being taken off a list the school should not have been on in the first place.

"I'm not happy or sad about it because it's political, it's not real," Kadri said. "What's real is helping the students. This kind of flawed accountability gives the public a false sense of what is going on. A district could be making progress, but it's not reflected in this list, and those that are not making progress could very well be on it."

Contact staff writer Toni Callas at 856-779-3912 or tcallas@phillynews.com.

— Toni Callas
Philadelphia Inquirer


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