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NCLB Outrages

State to 'Coach' Lagging Schools

Ohanian Comment:

"They will go to the schools and begin with the data and work from there." Begin with the data. That's the mantra. Gone are the days of Begin with the kid.

AUGUSTA - Now that the state Department of Education has identified which of its schools are struggling, guiding them to attain passing grades remains a challenge.

Deputy Commissioner Patrick Phillips said Tuesday the department has a team of "school coaches" that will specifically target those schools that were unable to meet certain standardized testing requirements.

While many schools have been identified as having problems in some areas and will continue to be monitored by the department, a core group of 50 schools are the ones that need immediate attention from the coaching teams.

"They will go to the schools and begin with the data and work from there," Phillips said Tuesday. "It's not so much, 'How do we get off the list?' but 'What does the data show that can lead to improvement?'"

Phillips said because funding constraints have limited the department to two school coaches, "we've got to be very creative" at tailoring a solution to an individual school's problems. He said the improvement plan would likely involve group meetings and some form of professional development because "teachers really hold the key to this."

According to test results released Monday, more than a quarter of the state's 711 schools were unable to meet the learning guidelines established under the federal government's No Child Left Behind requirements.

Of the 195 schools that scored below the 2004 Adequate Yearly Progress [AYP] guidelines, 30 middle schools, 19 high schools and one grade school have been labeled Continuous Improvement Priority Schools [CIPS] because they were unable to attain the required scores in either mathematics or reading, or both, for a minimum of two years in a row.

Last year, 10 schools were on the list for the second year in a row. This year, eight of those schools had worked their way off the list.

Of that group, just two schools, Searsport District Middle School and Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield, have been on the state's watch list for three years running. Both have been unable to raise their scores in mathematics.

In addition, 22 elementary, 40 middle schools and 20 high schools have been placed on monitor status because their student population failed, on average, to reach AYP levels last year. More than 500 Maine schools met or exceeded the federal standards.

The rankings were established through the results of the Maine Educational Assessment tests administered statewide during March to students in grades 4, 8 and 11.

No Child Left Behind became federal law in 2001 and requires states to implement by 2014 standardized testing and performance tracking for all students in kindergarten through high school. The law also asks states to identify and sanction schools that fail to meet the federal guidelines.

In the case of Searsport Middle School and Lawrence Junior High, both have been classified as a School Assistance Project by the state. Both schools introduced new mathematics programs a few years ago, and the assistance will focus on the schools' teaching staff, according to George Tucker, a department educator.

Tucker said the new math programs were designed to be compatible with Learning Results and focus on problem solving along with computation.

He said much more reading and writing was involved in the programs which aim at getting the students to recognize solutions. He said by working closely with the teachers, the state hoped to improve test results.

"It takes a lot of professional development and that's what we have to design and deliver for the teachers," said Tucker. "What happens when a new program comes in is that scores level off. It really takes time to develop a new program."

Phillips said most of the problems the schools encountered in their test results were caused by the inability of special education or economically disadvantaged students to meet the test guidelines. Under NCLB, he said, the scores of those subgroups carry the same weight as the scores of all other students.

"The intent of the law was to improve results for racial and ethnic groups and the poor...," said Phillips. "A large number of the schools on the monitor or priority list have some issues with the disability subgroup. We accept the fact that all of our kids are important and all need to get the high standard. ... But we may not be finished yet in figuring out the best way to measure achievement in our special education sub-group."

In SAD 34, both the Belfast Area High School and Troy Howard Middle School were placed in the group of schools that will require priority monitoring.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Al Pheiffer said the AYP numbers were below average because of the scores of special education and economically disadvantaged students.

Pheiffer said that had those subgroups been removed from the equation, the schools would have met the requirements. He said the "matrix" of the NCLB requirements posed problems for schools everywhere.

"In every community, not only in this state but in states across the country, those are the areas that show the most difficulties," said Pheiffer. "It's not huge for us. In some cases it could be one student not performing well on the test or one student not taking the test."

"Being on the list is cause for reflection, but it's the percentages of the sub-groups that we're dealing with," said Pheiffer. "Federal guidelines have certain expectations regardless of the background. Nobody wants to be on this statewide list, so we're obviously concerned, because nobody wants to be on any list."

A complete list of the AYP results can be found at the Department of Education's web site

a href="www.maine.gov/education"> www.maine.gov/education

— Walter Griffin
Bangor Daily News


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