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'No Child Left Behind' standards have defenders, detractors

South Kitsap school administrators said despite the challenges of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), there is a silver lining.

“It forces us to look at this from a team perspective,” said Kurt Wagner, the district’s assistant superintendent for instructional services.

The core goal of the act — a re-authorization of the federal spending plan for the nation’s elementary and secondary public schools approved in January of last year — is to have 100 percent of students meeting state academic achievement standards in reading and mathematics by 2014, with the achievement in both subjects determined by the Washington Assessment of Student Learning(WASL) results:

Using 2002 as baseline, each school and district will be measured to determine it is making Adequate Yearly Progress(AYP) toward the 100 percent goal, which translates into roughly 6.5 percent a year, depending on the grade level.

The biggest difference in the current plan, and what has state and local educators concerned about and criticizing the plan, is that it includes sanctions for schools and districts that don’t make minimum academic progress. Sanctions — that progress from allowing students to transfer to other schools to overhauls of school curriculum and staff — may apply to schools and districts once they do not make adequate progress two consecutive years in any of 37 areas, or cells, and are deemed “In Need of Improvement.”

The 37 cells include nine divisions of students —Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, White, Limited English Proficiency, Disabled(special education) and Disadvantaged(low income) and, finally, all students together.

As long as a subgroup contains at least 30 students it is considered in a school’s AYP assessment. As a district, South Kitsap has less than 30 students in three subgroups: American Indian, Hispanic and Limited English Proficiency.

Schools must have all subgroups of students making adequate yearly progress in four areas — reading and math proficiency, and must test at least 95 percent of the students in both subjects — which makes up 36 cells. The final two cells are the high school graduation rate and percentage of unexcused absences for grades K-8.

If any subgroup does not meet the goals in either reading or mathematics, the whole school or district does not meet the federal standard.

One subgroup in particular that school administrators are pointing to as an almost certain failure area is LEP, or Limited English Proficiency students.

To be placed in that category to begin with, a student is performing below the standard already. Once he meets the standard, he is removed from the category.

“Once the student improves to his grade level, he is taken out of the subgroup, so you cannot count him as a success anymore,” said Dan Whitford, South Kitsap School District’s director of instructional services.

However, not all schools face sanctions. While all districts are affected by certain provisions of the law, only schools accepting Title 1 funds risk sanctions. Statewide, 95 percent of districts accept Title 1 funding, and nearly half of schools do.

In the SKSD, more than two thirds of the schools receive Title 1 funds, while only five do not: Manchester, South Colby, Mullenix Ridge, John Sedgwick Junior High and South Kitsap High School.

All the schools are affected by the achievement reporting requirements, identification of improvement needs and higher academic requirements for teaching assistants and classroom teachers.

Achievement at all schools will be reviewed, and all results are required to be made public.

In addition to the academic performance standards, there are staffing qualification expectations as well.

In all schools, all teachers of core academic subjects — English, language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, history, geography and the arts — must be “highly qualified” by the 2005-06 school year.

To be highly qualified, teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and hold full state certification. They also must either hold national board certification in the core academic subject(s) they are assigned to teach, or be endorsed in those subjects.

“It’s like flying the airplane while you’re still trying to build it, but the good thing is that every other district in the nation will be going through the same thing,” said SK District Superintendent Bev Cheney.

For more information on the law, see: http://www.NoChildLeft Behind.gov/

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