NCLB standards difficult for all school systems to meet

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com

  As city and county school systems across the state wait to hear where they stand with No Child Left Behind, most school officials are aware of a strong possibility that at least one school in their system will be targeted for not meeting federal benchmarks. Because schools are evaluated in several different subject areas and subgroups, the result is that nearly every school needs more attention.
  Seven schools in the county system were targeted last year for not meeting federal benchmarks and are at risk for not making adequate yearly progress for the second year in a row. Officials in that system are covering all bases to prepare for the news. Should those schools receive the same report for the 2003-2004 academic year, the system will still have another year to improve those schools before other measures are taken to increase progress.
   In the city system, Superintendent Dr. David Roper is remaining optimistic about results. Three out of five schools in the city system have been targeted for not meeting federal benchmarks in various areas during 2002-2003.
  "The difficulty is you've got so many different ways in which you can make one of those lists - including attendance and graduation rates - that can cause a school to be on the list. While we don't anticipate that happening, I don't dare say that it won't," Roper said Wednesday. The state will release NCLB results for the 2003-2004 academic year Aug. 1.
  According to the state Department of Education, East Side Elementary School did not meet the federal benchmark for attendance last year, and the economically disadvantaged population at Elizabethton High School was not proficient on the English Gateway exam. Harold McCormick Elementary School also did not meet the federal benchmark for attendance.
  T.A. Dugger Junior High School and West Side Elementary School passed all tested subject areas in all subgroups and also had sufficient attendance records.
  According to the DOE Web site, the purpose of NCLB is to ensure that all students in all schools are academically proficient in math, reading and language arts by 2014. Until that time, schools and districts will be measured on their ability to move toward that goal. In other words, a school must show every year that a greater percentage of its students meet proficiency standards.
  This year, the state established a baseline against which to measure progress in the coming years. Schools that are below the federal benchmarks in the first year are called "target schools".
  Schools must meet proficiency benchmarks in nine subgroups, including five race and ethnic groups; students with disabilities; limited English-proficient students; economically disadvantaged students, and the school as a whole.
  A school or district that fails to show progress in the same subgroup for two consecutive years is labeled a high priority or target school. A high priority school or district that shows progress for two years in a row is removed from the high priority list.
  When a subgroup does not meet federal benchmarks in reading, language arts, or math but succeeds in boosting the number of proficient students by ten percent or more, the school will be considered to have met standards under a Safe Harbor provision.
  K-8 schools meet federal benchmarks if they demonstrate in all subgroups:
  * 95 percent participation rate on all state assessments
  * Required proficiency in math as determined by TCAP achievement tests
  * Required proficiency in reading/language arts as determined by TCAP achievement tests and writing assessments
  * 93 percent attendance rate for the school year
  Grades 9-12 will meet federal benchmarks if they demonstrate in all subgroups:
  * 95 percent participation rate on all state assessments
  * Required proficiency in math Gateway tests
  * Required proficiency in reading/language arts as determined by English Gateway tests and writing assessments
  * 60 percent graduation rate for the school year (excluding GED and special education diplomas)
  Schools that fail to meet federal benchmarks in the first year are designated as "target schools" and receive technical assistance from the DOE. There are no sanctions, and the school has another year to demonstrate improvement.
  The second year a school fails to meet federal benchmarks, the school is placed in "school improvement", which triggers a number of initiatives aimed at raising school performance. At this stage, parents of students in Title I schools - schools that receive federal funds - are offered school choice.
  After three years of failure to meet federal benchmarks, the state works with the school district and school staff to develop an intensive improvement plan to channel additional resources toward improving school performance. Children in Title I schools are offered supplemental education services, such as tutoring, at no cost.
  Following four years, schools are put "on probation" and the state will take action such as removing school staff, increasing the length of the school day or year, or decreasing the authority of local management.
  After five years, schools are put in "corrective action" and the school district will design a plan for restructuring the school or district with choices including conversion to a charter school, replacement of staff, taking over management or contracting with a private entity to take over management.
  Schools that struggle for a sixth year and fail to meet benchmarks will implement the plan designed when placed in "corrective action".