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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Formula Unfairly Labels Improving Schools

Ohanian comment: Probably we won't be hearing Governor Bush complaining about President Bush's federal formula anytime soon. After all, the formula only hurts public schools, not politicians.

A new federal law gives more than 3,500 Duval County students the option of transferring to a different school this year.

As part of the No Child Left Behind Act, schools receiving federal aid for disadvantaged students -- commonly called Title I money -- face sanctions if they fail to improve annually. If these schools fail to make gains for two consecutive years, they are placed on a federal improvement list and students may transfer to a better public school.

Among the 71 Title I schools in Jacksonville, eight are on the list.

In all, 48 Florida Title I schools failed to meet federal standards, according to the state education department. The Jacksonville schools are the only ones in Northeast Florida on the list.

If a school fails ...
For more information about public school transfers under federal law, call the Duval County School Board's school choice office at (904) 390-2083 or (904) 390-2144 or its Title I office at (904) 390-2123. For more information on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, go to Jacksonville.com, keyword: NCLB.

The new No Child Left Behind Act outlines sanctions that occur when a Title I school fails to make adequate learning gains for at least two consecutive years.

Here is a breakdown of what happens each year a schools fails to meet federal standards:

Two years: Parents are offered the chance to send their child to any higher-performing public school in the system.
The school system must provide transportation.

Three years: Parents are offered supplemental services, such as private tutoring, that must be paid for by the public school system. Parent choice options continue.

Four years: A school enters into corrective action. This can include adopting new curriculum, replacing staff or management by a for-profit company. Parent choice options continue.

Five years: A school is identified for restructuring. This is the ultimate penalty. Parent choice options continue.
Source: Florida Department of Education, U.S. Department of Education.

Who can transfer

Duval County has 71 Title I schools. According to a new federal law, students at eight of these schools may transfer to another public school next year because the government determined their school failed to make adequate improvement for two consecutive years.

The affected schools are:

George Washington Carver Elementary

Lola M. Culver Elementary

Rufus E. Payne Elementary

Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary

West Jacksonville Elementary

Matthew Gilbert Middle School

Eugene Butler Middle School

Daniel Payne Academy charter school
Source: Duval County public schools, Title I office

Thy are George Washington Carver, Lola Culver, Rufus Payne, Rutledge Pearson and West Jacksonville elementary schools; Eugene Butler and Matthew Gilbert middle schools and Daniel Payne Academy, a charter school. There are no Title I high schools in Jacksonville.

Although the sanctions have been widely discussed by lawmakers and education officials, they aren't as well-known among principals, teachers and parents.

Superintendent John Fryer said some parents will be surprised to see their child's school on the list. All eight of the schools improved at least one letter grade when the state released its accountability report Wednesday. Half the schools jumped to a C from an F. The other four improved to a D from an F.

But the federal government uses a different standard.

"What we have is two systems banging up right against one another," Fryer said. "It is all very confusing."

Rufus Payne Elementary School Principal James Young still was celebrating his school's C when he learned the improvement didn't constitute what the federal government defines as adequate yearly progress.

"This is something else," Young said. "I find it hard to believe that a school can improve from an F to a C and still be considered a failing school. I thought I understood all these rules, but I don't."

Under Florida law, all public schools receive a letter grade based on a formula using individual student scores and learning gains or losses on the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Any school receiving an F twice over four years is declared failing and its students may transfer to a higher-performing public school or use a voucher to attend a participating private school. Ribault High School is the only local school where students are eligible for state vouchers under the FCAT system.

The state system measures individual student achievement and determines whether a school is improving by evaluating learning gains and the performance of the lowest achievers, said Frances Marine, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.

The new federal plan places more emphasis on broader gains among specific demographic subgroups, Marine said.

Under federal law, states must have all children proficient by the 2013-14 school year. The proficiency levels are measured through state-developed exams, such as FCAT.

To reach the 100 percent proficiency goal in time, all public schools must meet adequate yearly progress targets. Each state develops its targets and the proficiency levels increase as the deadline approaches.

For this school year, the Florida target was 38 percent of students proficient in math and 31 percent proficient in reading.

All students, including those in eight subgroups, must reach the target. The subgroups place students in different categories based on race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency and disabilities. If one or more of the subgroups fails to reach the targeted proficiency level, the entire school is judged as having failed to make adequate yearly progress.

Any Title I school that received a D or F from the state failed to meet federal adequate yearly progress, Marine said.

In some cases, a school can receive a C and not meet federal standards, said Frank Herrington, Duval County's Title I director.

"After spending so many years just looking at the grades, we are going to have to learn that those grades aren't telling us everything we need to know," Herrington said.

The news that schools need to worry about more than the state's grading system was disheartening for those who have spent the past several years working to improve.

Two teachers at George Washington Carver Elementary wondered whether someone was trying to burst their bubble. The school moved from an F to a C but was placed on the federal school improvement list.

Then there are those like Young, the principal at Rufus Payne, who worry students will transfer to a different school.

If Johnnie Moore is an indication, schools officials have little worry. The grandmother volunteers at Matthew Gilbert Middle School and wants her seventh-grade grandchild to remain there.

Moore witnessed the hard work and extra hours students and staff put in to improve two letter grades to a C.

"If one says it's good and one says it isn't, I obviously can't listen to what either one says, so it is up to me," Moore said. "Now I don't know much about that federal law, but I'm satisfied with the school. We're staying."

— Laura Diamond
FCAT scores not good enough for feds
Florida Times-Union
June 22, 2003


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