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NCLB Outrages

Low Test Scores Leave PVUSD Searching for Firmer Ground

A quagmire of numbers and statistics, the recent results of this year's Adequate Yearly Performance and Academic Performance Index have left administrators and teachers in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District troubled, confused and, in some cases, angry.

"It's like we're on the bridge on Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland and we never know what's going to pop up or what's going to happen," PVUSD Superintendent Dr. Mary Anne Mays said. "It's confusing trying to know what we should do."

PVUSD schools performed better this year than last on state and federal standardized tests, but many schools in the district still failed to meet the AYP standards set by No Child Left Behind.

One of the reasons for this, said Mays, is the conflicting messages of the AYP and API systems and inconstancies among state and federal administrators.

"They set a standard, but then put a sheet over it and move it. They tell us that they move it, but they don't say 'two feet' or 'three feet,'" Mays said.

NCLB standards have been criticized by many educators, especially in California, where the conflicting API system has forced schools to sometimes choose between two different sets of standards.

The API system has been used in California since 1999 as part of the California's Public Schools Accountability Act. It aims to bring students in "far below" and "below" categories of proficiency into "basic" or above categories.

By this measure, PVUSD schools have steadily improved.

However, the AYP system set by the federal government sets a different standard. Rather than focusing on bringing the lowest performing students up to a mid-level, it asks California schools to bring mid-level students up to higher levels.

While Mays said she approves of setting standards such as No Child Left Behind, she said the way they are being set is flawed.

Because California had a definition of "proficient" in place before AYP standards, the federal government said California's API "proficient" would suffice for AYP "proficient," as well.

The problem, said Mays, was that PVUSD students earning "basic" API scores would earn "proficient" AYP scores in other states.

"The feds said we couldn't water down our standards for No Child Left Behind," Mays said. "So our students are being held to a higher standard than other states."

For principals and teachers who are often left with the dirty work of explaining the low scores to parents, the AYP and API standards and results are frustrating.

Erick Gross, assistant principal at Hall District Elementary school, said many parents don't understand the complex results.

"Parents tend to fog over a little bit when we talk about it. I say forget the scores; basically we're talking about the kids at our school," Gross said, adding that AYP and NCLB are hardly solutions for a failing educational system.

"The thing is that in this system you're either better or worse than someone else," he said. "It's never going to be the case that everyone's better than anyone else. It's a basic problem with the ranking system. One of the drastic measures after year five is that a school can be forced to be a charter school. This isn't really a solution; it's only a re-labeling."

According to State Department of Education statistics, in testing this school year two-thirds of California school districts will not make AYP, and by 2013-2014 none will make AYP. This would mean the entire state fails No Child Left Behind, though, by API standards, student achievement may be right on track.

While negotiating these differences is difficult for administrators, Mays said it is particularly frustrating for parents, and that the two testing systems often give very different pictures of schools and are often difficult to distinguish between.

The California Teachers Association agreed, calling the information "useless" to parents and teachers, saying the system is "confusing and contradictory."

"These scores should not be allowed to mask the fact that many schools lack basic resources to provide students with the education they deserve," CTA President Barbara Kerr said.

And the California School Board Association also finds the testing and accountability system far from satisfactory.

"Struggling schools that have worked very hard and made tremendous progress in raising student achievement don't get any credit under NCLB if they don't reach this single and, frankly, arbitrary measure," CSBA Director Scott Plotkin said.

For the time being, Mays said, it looks like NCLB is going to be the system of operation in all schools, but she hopes that changes can be made to help schools both achieve higher results and show their progress for what it is.

And if legal action is necessary, Mays said, the district will not be afraid to take it.

"We're going to be looking at if we should challenge the scores, and if a lawsuit might be appropriate," she said.

— Laura Norton
Register-Pajaronian (Watsonville, CA)


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