Inside the Law
Getting Off the Failing List
Ok, the worst has happened and one of the schools in your district is going to receive a failing score under the regulations of NCLB. But before you schedule an immediate vacation, or call the local newspaper and rail about all that is wrong with the law, there may still be hope.
It is possible to successfully appeal a failing score, according to Maree Sneed, a partner with the Washington, D.C., law firm Hogan & Hartson.
The first step is a basic one, she says. See if there is any basis for appeal by checking the accuracy of the data.
While the name of the law implies that every child’s test scores will be counted, this is both true and false. Scores from some students are exempt from their school’s grade, although these scores are factored into the district’s total grade.
Any student who has been in his or her school for less than a year can have their score exempted from their school’s score, Sneed says. States will determine how long students have to be in school to be counted within that school’s test results.
The other possible exception involves students in a subgroup that is too small to be statistically accurate. (Typically, this is about 30 students, but again, each state determines the limit.) These students, who can include special ed or non-English speakers, would have their scores counted district wide, but not within any specific school.
These exceptions mean that in an extreme case, a district could have all of its schools pass, and yet the district as a whole could be considered failing, Sneed adds. —Wayne D’Orio
HAMILTON CITY (Ohio) SCHOOLS
Getting Better by the Year
Five years ago, Hamilton City Schools in Ohio were labeled an “academic emergency.” The state gave administrators five years to shape up.
Now, 18 months after becoming the example behind the federal NCLB law, Hamilton schools meet 20 out of 22 yearly indicators of success as created by the state. The indicators touch on fourth-, sixth-, ninth-, and 10th-grade writing, reading, math, science, citizenship, attendance and graduation rates. The district also surpassed the state average in 15 of 22 indicators.
“We can’t say it’s because of No Child Left Behind, but it’s the intense focus on individual student achievement” which is the core behind the law, says Barbara Fuerbacher, assistant superintendent of instruction. “We’ve been very focused to say every child can do better and the district can do better.”
For example, fourth-grade reading showed a nearly 25 percent gain in proficiency over the past year, from 46 percent to nearly 71 percent. This could be attributed the district’s focus on data analysis of students’ weaknesses and implementing four philosophies: self-selected reading; guided reading; emphasizing grammar and writing; and working with words.
The After-school Proficiency Intervention session has helped students improve in class work and assignments in math and reading. This summer, administrators anticipate having 1,200 K-6 students attend the summer intervention program.
Left Out and Left Behind Means More Money Needed
With a national high school graduation rate of only 69 percent and millions of students at risk of dropping out, the No Child Left Behind law attempts to remedy this crisis.
Recently, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the National Association of Secondary School Principals introduced two documents designed to help the public and legislators understand how the law affects high schools.
In its report, Left Out and Left Behind: NCLB and the American High School, the alliance notes that NCLB requirements for high schools can be grouped into four areas: teacher quality; graduation rates; testing; and adequate yearly progress. The report also includes high school statistics from each state.
Nationwide, 807 high schools are identified as needing improvement, but many were identified as using methods that do not comply with NCLB, says Scott Joftus, the alliance’s policy director. The number will only get higher under new AYP requirements, he adds.
The alliance also recommends: high quality teachers and principals; adolescent literacy programs; and smaller learning environments to help with current difficulties.
To implement these initiatives, the alliance recommends the federal government invest $2,400 for each of the six million middle and high school students at the highest risk of dropping out. www.all4ed.org, www.nassp.org