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Schools Prep Parents for Bad News

At least 1 school per district expected to be put on list as not meeting standards

In just two weeks, parents of students at 20 Coachella Valley schools will find out whether their childrenís public schools will be cited for not making enough annual progress to satisfy the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

And theyíll find out how to transfer their students to other schools, if they want.

Federal law requires any schools falling short to provide a transfer and free transportation to another school, if parents request it.

Superintendents in all three Coachella Valley districts expect at least one school in their districts will be placed on the final list, which will be released Oct. 13.

Superintendents already have a plan to notify parents of children in the schools and offer parents the chance to request a transfer to an unaffected school with transportation paid, as the federal educational accountability law requires.

Parents at some schools on what is called the "Program Improvement" list of failing schools have already looked into their options. Ben Hernandez has already tried to seek a transfer for his two daughters from Nellie N.Coffman Middle School to another school, and he may try to do it again after the new list is released.

"Iím not satisfied with whatís going on there," the Cathedral City resident said.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that all schools that receive Title I federal funds meet certain yearly progress goals, which includes schoolsí performance on standardized tests. Failure to meet the benchmarks for two straight years lands a school on the Program Improvement list.

The California Department of Education will release a list of schools designated as Program Improvement schools. That means those schools, which receive federal money to help educate large numbers of low-income or minority students, didnít meet federal accountability goals over the past two years.

How it works

The transfer process is similar in all three desert school districts. Parents will receive letters explaining what each district requires them to do if they want to transfer their child.

Once the district receives the final transfer requests, it works out new bus routes to transport the transfer students.

Palm Springs Unified usually offers parents two choices of schools, based primarily on proximity. Transportation for the child typically works like this: The child rides a bus to his old school where he catches another bus to his new school.

In Desert Sands Unified, the Child Welfare and Attendance office handles information transfers. The district typically recommends schools close to the childís current school, but it also takes into account which schools have room for more students.

"Itís a real challenge to find two schools where we can squeeze in a few more students, but we do that," DeLandtsheer said.

Coachella Valley Unified is working on letters to let parents know about their options, should any requests come through.

But according to district officials, overall, few parents request transfers.

Zack Perkins , for instance, never considered a transfer for his son Andrew, an eighth-grader at Nellie N. Coffman Middle School in Cathedral City, a school already on Palm Springs Unifiedís Program Improvement list.

"Iíve never actually thought about transferring him," the Rancho Mirage resident said. "In my opinion, the school itself has made some radical changes" that satisfy him.

Parents Perkins and Hernandez disagree with the success of programs instituted at their childrenís school to spur improvement. Perkins said heís pleased with some changes, like the expansion of the school day from six class periods to eight to accommodate extra instruction in language arts and math -- areas that are heavily emphasized in standardized testing and accountability programs. Like the rest of the student body, Andrew, 12, is now taking two periods each of English and math.

But Hernandez doesnít think the extra class time is necessary for all students, his children included.

Only about eight students in the entire district opted to go somewhere else, said Nancy Kiltz, director of state and federal programs for Palm Springs Unified.

Joelle DeLandtsheer, director of testing and evaluation for Desert Sands Unified, said the district logged 31 requests for transfers in the 2002-03 school year from parents citing the No Child Left Behind Act. All of those were resolved, she said.

Data on completed transfer requests in Desert Sands Unified was not available for the 2003-04 year, but DeLandtsheer said the district got about 175 requests for transfers in a variety of categories, of which No Child Left Behind was only one.

"Under No Child Left Behind, itís very few," she said of the transfer requests.

Twelve No Child Left Behind transfers have been approved for Desert Sandsí four existing Program Improvement schools for the 2004-05 school year.

Coachella Valley Unified has received even fewer requests for transfers, said Paul Grafton, district director of testing and assessment.

"I got the exact figure," he said. "Zero."

"Nobodyís ever asked."

Current situation

All three districts already have schools on the Program Improvement list: Palm Springs Unified has eight, Coachella Valley Unified has seven, and Desert Sands Unified has four.

Palm Springs Unified officials anticipate that two of its eight schools will exit the list this year, said Kiltz.

However, none of the districts expect all their schools on the 2003 Early Warning list to make the Program Improvement list.

Officials in the three districts donít anticipate a huge surge of transfer requests this year, either. Grafton said many Coachella Valley Unified students are English language learners who donít perform as well as English speakers on the standardized tests factored into school accountability reports -- a fact that parents seem to understand. So far, they havenít clamored for transfers, he said.

"Those are the cards that weíre dealt, and the cards that weíre playing with," he said.

As educators prepare to accommodate parents who request transfers, they have lots of geographical and transportation issues to consider.

"The point is to make sure the child doesnít miss anything of the educational experience because of those logistics," Grafton said.

— Jennifer Larson
The Desert Sun/Scott County Times


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