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Mass. Schools Aren't Making the Fed Grade

Twice as many Bay State schools flunked fed standards this year as in 2003, and some are facing a possible state takeover for failing to make the grade for years, the state's top education official said.

``It's more than a doubling,'' Education Commissioner David Driscoll told the Herald.

Not only did the list of schools skyrocket, but some face potentially drastic action - including a state takeover - for falling short six years in a row.

The public will learn next week the schools that made ``adequate yearly progress,'' Uncle Sam's new education gold standard. Last year 15 percent, or 256, of the state's 1,700 schools missed the mark.

Some of the state's 38 schools that already have flunked for five years in a row failed again, Driscoll said, an unprecedented event in Massachusetts that gives the state powers to close, change or otherwise reconstitute the school.

Driscoll will reveal the state's plan when results are announced next week but said, ``They're going to have to present to us a significant plan for change.''

But other schools not making adequate yearly progress also face sanctions. Missing two years in a row slaps a school with an ``identified for improvement'' label and in some cases a mandate to provide tutoring or offer school choice to kids. There were 208 Massachusetts schools so labeled last year.

The news is even more dramatic as the state quietly changed the rules, making it especially easier for suburban schools.

Schools' progress is based on a complex analysis of how black, white, Hispanic, poor and five other student groups fared on English and math Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests. But an unannounced change makes it easier for districts to discount minority students' performance. Last year, minority groups' scores were not broken out as separate categories for fewer than 20 students. This year, though, that number was changed to 40.

That change particularly helps suburban schools with mostly white, regular-education students. The performance of subgroups last year led to five schools in the highly touted Brookline system not making adequate yearly progress, but the rule change helped, said Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Fischer-Mueller.

``It makes it more statistically significant. It's too bad they didn't understand that statistical significance last year,'' she said.

The number of failing schools is expected to skyrocket across the country as increasingly strict federal standards take hold. That is going to lead to good schools being labeled as bad ones, said testing critic Monty Neill.

``There are schools doing well, and they're going to get caught up in the problem and mislabeled,'' he said.

— Kevin Rothstein
Boston Herald


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