LA Times, September 21, 2005 [ IV NCLB resource page ]
10 Schools Run Out of Time to Catch Up
The federal No Child Left Behind education law gave schools seven years to meet achievement goals, laying out increasingly dire consequences — including the removal of school staff — for those that fell short.
But now, 10 schools have exceeded that seven-year timetable, leaving them in undefined territory and spawning renewed criticism by education officials about the fairness of the law.
In all, 1,772 California public schools — or about 20% of the state's 9,000 campuses — were declared in need of improvement.
Many of the schools fell short of their performance goals because too few of their students reached the proficient level in English or math on standardized tests last year.
But it was the nine Los Angeles schools and one in Visalia that found themselves navigating uncertain terrain.
"We're beyond the law. In a way, it's laughable and sad at the same time," said science teacher Kevin Bryan of Wilson High School, one of the nine Los Angeles campuses. "We've been on this list for a long time. We've done so much to get off it, but we can't."
Federal education department officials said they were not concerned about the schools entering their eighth year of needing improvement, saying campus reforms take time.
In an effort to boost achievement at schools serving low-income children, No Child Left Behind established a system of prods and punishments.
These so-called Title I schools are required to meet annual testing targets in English and math for their campuses overall as well as for subgroups that include races, special education students and children from poor families.
The schools also have to test at least 95% of their students each year.
Campuses that fall short of the goals are placed on a watch list for two years.
Those that continue to miss their targets enter a five-year period during which they face "corrective actions" and increasingly severe sanctions.
Initially, the schools have to offer their students transfers to higher-performing campuses and free tutoring.
In cases where schools still falter, their districts are required to develop "restructuring" plans that can include state takeovers or the removal of staff.
The plans are implemented in the seventh and final year of the No Child Left Behind timetable.
Federal education officials said that schools exceeding the seven-year timetable are not in limbo but will remain in the restructuring phase until they can meet their testing targets for two consecutive years.
"If the school needs a couple of extra years for the reforms to take hold, that's OK, as long as students are learning," said Darla Marburger, a deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Education.
"The idea is to recognize that there is a problem and then come up with a solution to that problem. We would be guilty … if we recognized there was a problem and then turned our heads the other way and didn't do anything about it."
But state education officials criticized the No Child Left Behind law, saying it was wrong to assign what amounts to a perpetual failure label on schools that are making progress.
The officials were particularly frustrated because the federal testing benchmarks rose for the first time this year, leaving many schools unable to meet the higher expectations and escape the "in need of improvement" tag — even though many of the campuses did, in fact, improve. Even some of the schools considered among the best in Los Angeles found themselves on the improvement list, including Taft High School in Woodland Hills and Eagle Rock High School.
"It's going to be exceedingly difficult to jettison out of the abyss," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. "We need to move our schools in a rational and reasonable way."
Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer echoed O'Connell's sentiments, angrily criticizing No Child Left Behind as an inaccurate gauge that judges schools by unyielding standards.
Romer and O'Connell said they trust the state's own accountability system, the Academic Performance Index, as a more realistic measure of progress because it rewards schools for their incremental gains.
Many of the schools throughout the state that did not meet the federal targets, posted significant gains on the state index this year.
"We're not sitting here checking at the end of the day, 'Did we comply with the federal law?' " Romer said. "We're sitting here saying, 'Do we have a strategy … to ensure that we are moving over time to really help all kids learn?' "
Still, Romer said the district has taken forceful steps to improve instruction and learning on the nine campuses. The changes on those campuses were prompted largely by state audits four years ago that identified shortcomings in teaching and management.
At the 3,000-student Wilson High in El Sereno, the district replaced the principal and made other administrative moves. It also increased funding for teacher training and required Saturday classes for low-performing ninth-graders.
At Mount Vernon Middle School in the Mid-City area, nearly all of the administrators were replaced and more positions added. The school now has eight assistant principals who preside over four "houses" of students that help make the 1,850-student school more manageable.
"There's a sense of urgency," said Assistant Principal Carol Wise. "But it's not a sense of doom and impossibility."
Others on the list of schools beyond the law's limits are Locke, Fremont, Jefferson and Roosevelt high schools, and Mann, Gompers and Sun Valley middle schools. Houston Elementary in Visalia also was on the list.
More than 200 schools throughout the state could join them next year if they fail to meet the federal expectations.
But officials who oversee these campuses said they were working to remove their schools from the needs-to-improve list.
In the Santa Ana Unified School District, where six schools have entered the final year of the improvement program, officials are introducing smaller, more personalized clusters of classes in high schools and increasing the focus on kindergarten, among other things.
"Our scores are improving … but we have work to do," said Helen Stainer, the district's assistant superintendent. "Our students have to be where they can compete with other students so they can be successful when they leave us."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
No Child Left Behind
The number of California schools failing to meet federal proficiency standards increased again this year despite overall improvements on standardized tests. The annual "Program Improvement" list, released Tuesday, had fewer schools added this year, but rising proficiency standards under the No Child Left Behind Law made it harder for schools to get off the list.
Los Angeles County School Districts
Changes in L.A. Unified School District
Schools on the needs-to-improve list for first time
Angel's Gate Continuation
Banneker Special Ed.
Boyle Heights Continuation
Braddock Drive Elementary
Community Charter Middle
Corona Avenue Elementary
Eagle Rock Junior-Senior High
Eagle Tree Continuation
Ellington High Continuation
First Street Elementary
Glassell Park Elementary
Lanterman, Frank D.
Leichman Special Ed.
Lowman Special Ed.
Magnolia Avenue Elementary
Marianna Avenue Elementary
Mt. Lukens Continuation
Norwood Street Elementary
San Antonio Continuation
State Street Elementary
Stoner Avenue Elementary
Stoney Point Continuation
Taft Senior High
Twentieth Street Elementary
Twenty-Fourth Street Elementary
Union Avenue Elementary
University Senior High
West Valley Special Ed.
Willenberg Special Ed.
Schools getting off the needs-to-improve list this year
Cimarron Avenue Elementary
Marshall Senior High
Richland Avenue Elementary
Kinds of schools statewide
Middle/Junior High: 26%
Senior HIgh: 7%
Continuing Opportunity/Community Day: 6%
Alternative/K-12/Special Education: 2%
Schools on list, last 3 years
L.A. Unified School District
* Includes schools listed as first-year two consecutive years.
Note: The "Program Improvement" list includes only schools that receive federal Title I funds for impoverished students.
--Source: California Department of Education. Data analysis by Doug Smith and Sandra Poindexter
Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Doug Smith and Times data analyst
Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.