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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Causes Trouble in Connecticut

More than half the state's 180 public high schools could wind up on a U.S. government academic warning list partly because of a new deadline that state officials said unfairly penalizes some schools.

State officials will produce the list this month - months earlier than originally planned - to comply with President Bush's education reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

The state will release a similar list of elementary and middle schools whose students fail to meet reading and mathematics standards on annual statewide tests.

Schools that fail to make adequate improvement by the time a second annual list is published will be required to offer students the option of transferring to another local school. In towns with only one high school, the school must offer students some type of alternative academic program.

Those options will be offered in low-performing high schools as early as next January and in elementary and middle schools by fall of 2004, state officials said Wednesday.

The state Department of Education projects that as many as one-fifth of Connecticut's elementary and middle schools will be on the first list, and officials predict the number will grow in later years as standards are raised.

Federal officials asked Connecticut to revise its plan for complying with No Child Left Behind, including earlier deadlines for creating lists of schools in need of improvement.

Across the nation, the law expands testing programs and imposes sanctions on schools whose students fail to meet state standards in reading and mathematics. Schools can be singled out even if only one group of students, such as special education students or children who speak little or no English, falls below standards.

In Connecticut, officials will double the size of the state's annual testing program, adding grades 3, 5 and 7 to the Connecticut Mastery Test in 2006. That test currently is taken by grades 4, 6 and 8. High school standards will be measured on the 10th-grade Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

The U.S. Department of Education has already approved plans from 30 states for the new law, and Connecticut could win approval as early as this week, officials said.

"They keep telling us we're just about there," said state Education Commissioner Theodore S. Sergi, who was on the phone with federal officials earlier Wednesday.

Although state officials had hoped for more flexibility in applying the law, the federal government rejected several of Connecticut's proposals.

The state, for example, had planned to use scores from this spring's statewide 10th-grade test as the initial marker of high school performance. Instead the federal government said the first benchmark should be scores from a test taken last year.

Many high schools, however, failed to meet the government standard of 95 percent participation in that test - a standard that schools were unaware of at the time, officials said. At least 76 schools will be placed on the warning list solely because too many students missed the test a year ago, the state said in a report to the federal government.

The state agreed to the revision even though it said in its report that applying the participation standard retroactively "is blatantly unfair and capricious."

Officials also agreed to several other changes. Among them:

The state will report on progress of all schools, regardless of size. Originally, state officials had proposed to exempt schools of fewer than 40 students because they said such small numbers would make test results statistically unreliable.

All students, including new arrivals who speak little or no English, will be required to take state tests starting next year. State officials had proposed exempting students who had been in English language programs for less than 10 months.

State officials will raise the mathematics and reading standards in 2004, a year earlier than planned, and every three years afterward.

The state also moved up its deadline in another portion of the law requiring the identification of "persistently dangerous" schools.

Connecticut will notify schools this summer whether they are on a warning list of unsafe schools. To qualify as "persistently dangerous," however, a school would have to have three consecutive years of serious offenses such as gun violations or expulsions for other weapons or violent criminal behavior. The number of incidents required to place a school on the unsafe list varies depending on the size of the school. If a school is labeled as persistently dangerous, parents will be allowed to transfer their children to another school in the same district the following year.

— Robert H. Frahm
Federal Act Puts Squeeze On Schools
Hartford Courant
June 5, 2003


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