Thursday, August 11, 2011

Schools struggle to catch up to No Child rules

Aug. 4, 2011,

A record number of school districts missed federal standards as Texas continued its uphill march toward No Child Left Behind targets.

Statewide, 605 districts — or 49.3 percent - failed to make "adequate yearly progress" during the 2010-2011 school year as defined by No Child Left Behind, according to data released Thursday by the Texas Education Agency.

Houston and North Forest are on the list of repeat failures. Galena Park, Galveston, Pasadena and Clear Creek ISDs also failed to make adequate progress for at least two consecutive years.

Several districts, including HISD and Klein, failed because they exceeded a federal limit by testing more than 3 percent of special education students with alternative assessments.

"It is unfortunate that when the number of special education students reaches the predetermined cap, students beyond the cap are considered to have failed the test, even if in reality, they achieved a passing score," Klein Superintendent Jim Cain said.
Tougher to pass

The number of failing districts more than doubled since last year, when the so-called Texas Projection measure spared 175 districts. That growth measure, which credited students for expected future progress, was discontinued this year. Districts also faced tougher passing standards.

Eighty percent of students needed to pass the language arts test, compared to 73 percent in 2010. The passing rate for the math test jumped to 75 percent, from 67 percent in 2010.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warned Congress earlier this year that 82 percent of schools nationwide were on pace to fail. In Texas, individual campuses fared better, with just 26 percent missing the mark.

Florida and New Mexico topped that with failure rates of 89 and 87 percent, respectively.

Other states had much lower rates: Only 11 percent of Wisconsin schools and 20 percent of Rhode Island schools failed to meet the standard.

Several HISD schools, including Jones, Lee, Westbury, Wheatley, Worthing and Yates high schools, face sanctions for the first or second year.

"We'll make sure we're in compliance with the requirements," HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said.

All students are expected to pass reading and math exams by 2014 under the federal law championed by former President George W. Bush in 2001. Schools are also rated either on attendance or graduation rates.

Scott Imberman, a University of Houston economics professor, called the goal unrealistic and the ratings meaningless.

"I personally just ignore them," he said, adding that a more accurate measure would include a student growth component.

While parents would have a hard time using the ratings to judge schools, the focus on standardized testing over the last decade has had a tremendous impact on teachers and schools, said Melissa Pierson, associate dean for the College of Education at the University of Houston.

Many of the changes are beneficial - the high-stake climate is even prompting UH to raise admissions standards for teachers-to-be. Teachers must be able to produce results, she said.

"We need to be able to produce teachers who know how to use data and read data," Pierson said. "It's very eye-opening."

Districts have until Sept. 2 to appeal the ratings.

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