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No Child Left Behind list grows

There was a dramatic spike in schools throughout Washington on the federal “needs improvement” list last week.

And the South Kitsap School District isn’t an exception.

East Port Orchard Elementary, which twice has been named a state School of Distinction for its results on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, was among the list of institutions cited on the No Child Left Behind Act.

Test scores are broken into several groups under NCLB. They include race, poverty, English-language ability and special education. The latter group didn’t make “Adequate Yearly Progress” in reading and math at EPO this year. Each group also must contain 30 or more students to be counted under NCLB.

“They’re a school of distinction at the national and state level — and they fail AYP,” said SKSD deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner, adding that he has no problem with the accountability aspect of NCLB. “It’s a good example of why people have concerns about the way No Child Left Behind has been structured.”

The WASL is being phased out under state superintendent of public education Randy Dorn, but it has been the test used in Washington since NCLB began in 2002 to measure progress in math and reading in all public schools. It will be replaced by two tests next year — Measurements of Student Progress and the High School Proficiency Exam.

The list of Washington schools on the federal needs-improvement list increased from 618 in 2008 to 1,073 this year.

Dorn blames that on flaws in the NCLB rather than the schools.

“Our state testing scores are flat, yet the federal system shows an additional 500 schools are failing,” he said in a news release. “What is failing is No Child Left Behind. The law is completely unfair. While we know there is certainly room for improvement in our schools, it’s a statistical guarantee in this law that all of our schools will soon be in federal improvement status. That’s unrealistic.”

Wagner said there’s aspects of NCLB that he likes, specifically the focus on groups.

“It’s great to make sure people don’t have achievement gaps for African-American students or students in poverty,” he said.

But Wagner said there’s a challenge when it comes to analyzing scores for special-education students.

“To have the same expectations for those kids to achieve at the same level as all our kids — including our gifted kids — it seems like that’s a little bit of an anomaly,” he said. “We certainly feel like our special-education kids should be focused on. We focus on them as much, if not more, than any other subgroup.”

Wagner said it’s a “difficult group to get our conceptual fingers around” that group. For example, he said if the district was able to get enough special-education fourth-graders to exceed the state-uniform bar, those students would be moved out of that group during the next examination.

The news is just a warning for EPO because this is the first year it failed to make AYP. If tests scores within one of the groups do not make AYP two consecutive years, the school is put on needs improvement.

Burley-Glenwood, Orchard Heights and Sidney Glen Elementary schools fall under that list in SKSD. Those schools are required to inform parents of that status through mail. They also are required to increase teacher training and students are allowed to transfer to another school under the first step of the program. Sanctions go up to step five, which could include replacing the entire teaching staff at a school.

But that only applies to schools receiving federal Title I education money, which is allocated to institutions that have at least 40 percent of its students enrolled in free- and reduced-price lunch programs.

Other schools in the district that missed benchmarks, including South Kitsap High School, aren’t sanctioned because they don’t meet that designation.

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