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NCLB Outrages

District Scores Skewed, Unjust

Ohanian Comment: The way students with special needs is judged isn't fair, and I worry that the federal policy fosters a resentment among school personnel toward these children who are seen as the cause of a failing mark.

Preliminary results show that eight Amarillo Independent School District campuses failed to meet federal standards for the first time in 2003-04, officials said Tuesday.
But AISD Superintendent Rod Schroder says he isn't satisfied with those results, which come under the No Child Left Behind Act. He claims they're based on unjust standards imposed on special education and Limited English Proficient students.

Schroder plans to appeal the decisions to the Texas Education Agency, he said.

"I'm speaking out on this one because I think it is unfair," he said. "We want logical rules that are good for kids, and this one's not."

Schroder declined to release the names of the eight schools, saying that the TEA doesn't want the information out until February, until the appeals process is over.

"We do not have a list of the schools because the data is flawed," Schroder said. "We expect the (number of) eight to drop."

The eight schools are primarily secondary schools, he said.

However, several districts statewide, including those in San Antonio and Waco, have released the names of failing schools. TEA officials say they're leaving the decision up to individual districts.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush in 2002, requires all Title I schools to show "adequate yearly progress" each year in students' Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test scores.

The standards also look at graduation and attendance rates and the percentage of students who took the tests.

Title I schools have at least 40 percent of their students enrolled in the free- and reduced-lunch program.

Schools that fail to meet AYP for two years in a row are labeled "needs improvement" and must allow their students to transfer to other district campuses.

Three Amarillo Independent School District schools - Palo Duro High, Travis Middle and Mann Middle - fell under that category this fall.

The current eight campuses labeled "needs improvement" for 2003-04 failed in two main areas, special education and LEP test scores, Schroder said.

The special education issue is troubling to Texas educators, he said, because districts get conflicting orders from state and federal governments.

The state asks special-education students to take custom-made Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests suited to their intelligence levels, Schroder said.

However, No Child Left Behind doesn't recognize these tests if they're academically below the student's grade level, he said.

"Whether they pass them or not, they count as artificial failures," Schroder said.

Districts can exempt 1 percent of those students, but that still leaves many failures, he said.

Amarillo ISD parent Vicki Cabrera, whose 3-year-old son, Phillip, has Down syndrome, said standardized tests are already difficult for all students.

They're even harder for most special-ed students, she said.

Special-ed students shouldn't be made to take tests above their academic abilities, Cabrera said.

"I don't think it's right," she said.

The LEP issue also troubles districts, Schroder said. Under the state accountability system, brand-new English speakers get a one-year "grace period" before taking TAKS tests.

Under the federal system, there is no grace period, Schroder said - not even if a student arrived in Amarillo from the Sudan the day before a test.

And that has happened - Amarillo ISD receives many refugees who come to the Panhandle through Catholic Family Service.

Many children come in with no English, said Lori Lambert, director of development at CFS.

"A lot of the kids coming in have never been to school in their lives," she said. "The younger they are, the quicker they pick it up."

But these refugee youngsters are resilient and learn fast, Lambert said, adding:

"Within a year they're talking like Texans."

— Jennifer Wilson
Amarillo Globe & News


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