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Schools Struggle with Failing Grades Under 'No Child'

No Child Left Behind's 'one-size-fits-all' approach creating unrealistic, unfair goals, officials say.

No Child Left Behind, the controversial program aimed at improving English and math proficiency, continues to leave a nasty scarlet letter on many schools across the country.

Even in California, where standards are already considered high by many education authorities, successful schools under state mandates are labeled failing under NCLB.

"We have a bad law that needs to be changed," said Phyllis Peters, California Faculty Association representative, at the Oct. 20 Charter Oak board meeting.

Signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, NCLB requires all K-12 students to become 100 percent proficient in English Language Arts and math by 2014.

Every year, the percentage the federal government sets for students to be proficient or advanced increases dramatically.

This year, it is at 78.4 percent for ELA and 79 percent in math. Next year those requirements will jump by about 10 percent each.

Several schools in Glendora Unified and in Charter Oak Unified have failed to meet their AYP, according to the California Department of Education.

, , and all have missed AYP in Glendora Unified, while, and Badillo Elementary have also missed AYP in Charter Oak Unified.

Of these, La Fetra and Goddard have not made AYP for the past two years.

Goddard holds an API score of 872, only three points down from 2009-2010, but still well above the state's 800 benchmark and nearly 100 points above the state average of 778, according to the CDE.

Although Goddard saw drops in growth for Hispanic/Latino (-14 percent) and socioeconomically disadvantaged students (-17 percent), they met three out of four student growth targets and met school-wide growth for 2010-2011 under API.

However, under AYP the school is labeled failing under NCLB for those very same subgroups.

"NCLB declares that every child should be proficient in language arts and math by 2014, regardless of the challenges they face such as being English learners, special needs students," said Glendora Unified superintendent Robert Voors. "The message it sends to the school and the public is misleading and inaccurate."

Many educators have an issue with how subgroups are monitored.

Beth Smith, president of the Charter Oak Educators Association, said that all students, regardless of ability, are tested in an identical manner. She said the "one-size-fits-all" formula is problematic.

"We have an English language learner from Peru, from Mexico, some from China and Korea. They're all lumped under English language learners," Smith said of Charter Oak.

For Washington Elementary, despite drops in the Hispanic/Latino (-11 percent), socioeconomically disadvantaged (-25 percent) and English learners (-23 percent), the school still met all school-wide, student group and all target requirements. The school is still labeled failing for not meeting proficiency percentages under the same categories.

Cedargrove Elementary, also in Charter Oak, is a California Distinguished School with a score of 857, but is labeled failing under AYP.

"I don't see how NCLB has been a boon for any of us," Smith said.

Compounding the situation, schools receiving Title I funding from the federal government receive greater reprimands if they fail to meet AYP two consecutive years.

Title I schools receive funding based on the percentage of low-income and at risk students to bridge the education gap.

Any school that fails to meet AYP two consecutive years are labeled as Program Improvement.

In improvement year one, schools must outline a course of action they intend to undertake in fixing the problems. In year two, supplemental services are implemented, in year three corrective actions are taken, while beyond that restructuring plans and implementation are executed.

"I talked to the parents at an evening meeting and I shared this information," said Carlos Moran, La Fetra principal, at the Nov. 14 Glendora Unified board meeting. "They really understood the problem of getting to 100 percent."

Moran said that once the parents realized that English language learners and students who immigrated here must also be 100 percent proficient by 2014, they understood why it will be difficult to meet federal standards.

The Obama Administration has offered states who wish to opt out of NCLB to apply for waivers.

At least 39 states have applied for such waivers, which would provide two years of relief from NCLB, but Calif. passed up the opportunity for waivers after realizing the staggering costs to apply for them.

The state could spend up to $2 billion and maybe more to implement the waiver, according to the State Board of Education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised such waivers just two months ago, but after convening with the Board, waivers will not be a reality.

"It seems like this is very costly. The deadline is very tight if not impossible," Torlakson said recently, adding that the waiver is "not so much a waiver as a substitution for a new set of requirements and a new set of challenges."

Costs include $600 million to implement Common Core Standards, $410 million to fix the 15 percent of low-performing schools and $76 million to train principals and perform teacher evaluations.

"Waivers are not the answer," Voors said. "I think an accountability system that evaluates schools more appropriately and effectively, including credit for growth and achieving established benchmarks would be a good start."

Steven Hanson December 06, 2011 at 05:40 AM
It'd be nice if more people recognized the truths you write about. School problems have to be addressed at home and responsibility assumed or struggling students will never improve at school no matter how good the staff, facilities, resources are or how many millions the district spends.
Rodger Federer December 06, 2011 at 06:30 AM
It's amazing to me the number of parents who have never looked in their childs backpack. If educating our children is considered a community project, then parents should be held up to the same standards as the teachers. In addition, the same consequences. I wonder how things might be if school funding was allocated to students individually. If the student performs low, then their funding is reduced. That could be a good motivator. I dont know how such an idea would work, but its nice to brain storm sometimes.
Steven Hanson December 06, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Great idea...but to monitor individual students and reward individual achievement would probably be a logistical nightmare schools would resist. Honestly, they like conformity and "ease of operation" that cuts down their paperwork. My son had an IEP and even that individualization mandated by the state was met with resistance by some. But your idea has merit! A major key to better performance in schools are two very obvious items that are financially impossible to execute: smaller class sizes (and I mean no more than 20 students in EVERY class) and send habitual troublemakers to an alternative school, where they do better on individual lesson plans and don't hinder the kids who want to learn. The state can't afford lower class sizes or more teachers and isolating kids who inhibit learning would be met with cries of discrimination and stepping on individual rights...but all teachers know that only one kid can negatively impact a classroom for the entire year and every student there suffers. As to checking backpacks...Amen! I checked my son's at least once a week. Happily, nothing bad came of it, and because he had problems remembering to turn in homework, it came in handy many times.
Rodger Federer December 06, 2011 at 05:32 PM
I agree, but I'm glad were thinking of ideas intead of those who point the finger at others for their problems as it appears to be common with some Patch readers. Good brain storming, keep it up.
Steven Hanson December 06, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Thanks! and right back at you, Rodger! :) It's always satisfying to exchange viable opinions and ideas in a rational manner!

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