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Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Analyzing, Debating and Explaining No Child Left Behind

Golden StateMaking Strides

California schools appear to be making progress toward federal goals for student proficiency in English and math.

A new report by the state Department of Education shows 55 percent of all schools meet adequate yearly progress targets as outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act, compared to 32 percent last year.

Results based on California's 2003 Standardized Testing and Reporting program reveal significant increases, mostly in lower grades, in the percentages of students meeting or exceeding proficiency levels.

"We're moving ahead in good faith based on bad advice." - Cheri Pierson Yecke, State Education Commissioner

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, test scores increased significantly for the third consecutive year, particularly at the elementary level. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Unified School District outperformed the state at every grade level on the California Standards Test in the percentage of students at or above proficiency levels in English and math. Statewide STAR results show that Hispanic students are also closing the achievement gap.

--Alan L. Dessoff

Feds Yank Cash From Minnesota

A casualty of No Child Left Behind is evident in Minnesota, where the feds yanked $112,964 in federal education money after an alleged communication mixup.

The money is a fraction of the more than $500 million the state gets every year from the federal government.

The loss occurred after Minnesota officials said they planned to use attendance figures for middle school and graduation rates in high schools to show adequate yearly progress just for the 2002-03 school year. For this school year and future years, Minnesota will use test scores for AYP, as is required.

State Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke says the plan was adopted because only students in grades three and five took state standardized tests in 2002 and 2003, allowing a comparison. Middle and high school students took standardized tests for the first time in 2003 as a baseline test.

Yecke says the U.S. Department of Education stated the plan was supposedly OK in 2002, before she became commissioner. But last April, she says the education department stated it was invalid because AYP must be determined via test scores. "I was shocked," Yecke says.

The goof was a "misinterpretation" over a letter that the U.S. education department sent to Minnesota's former education commissioner, says Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman for the U.S. education department.

Yecke says, "I support this law and the philosophy behind it. It's causing positive change in our classrooms. This is a small, unfortunate setback."

Keyes (Calif.) Union Elementary School District

Half This District's Schools Need Better Scores

In the small California Keyes Union Elementary School District, half of the six schools are missing the mark when it comes to proficiency standards of No Child Left Behind. But the district is still in good shape.

"Three schools received a 'no' but the district overall received a 'yes,' " says Superintendent Thomas Changnon. "Go figure."

Gold Rush School, which is the main site for K-12 homeschoolers, had only a 73 percent participation rate in the state assessment test. Under No Child Left Behind, such tests must have a 95 percent or higher participation rate.

Then Summit Charter Academy, which has K-8 students, had Latinos and Hispanic children scoring below proficiency. The proficiency rate was set at 16 percent, and only 12.2 percent of those students reached that level.

At Spratling School, a 6-8 school, four subgroups of students scored below proficiency in math. Only 11.2 percent of English as a Second Language learners scored at proficient levels in English/language arts; the proficiency rate needed to be 13.6 percent.

Changnon says teachers and administrators "take this personally. It's their reputation at stake. You don't want to make excuses and the state and public don't want to hear excuses."

Summit has a new principal this year who will emphasize math and Spratling's language arts and math teachers are "dedicated" to bring struggling students up. A homework club for extra-help will start at Spratling and breakfast before school will carry over from last year. Teachers become chefs, serving breakfast for students who are making improvements or showing effort.