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Schools working to catch up on ‘No Child Left Behind’ requirements

Charles Sizemore
A Tahoe Valley Elementary School student runs in the playground during recess. / Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune
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Two schools in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District — Bijou Community School and South Tahoe Middle School — haven’t been making adequate progress toward goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But district officials are hopeful that steps they’re taking, including more frequent assessment of students and all-day kindergarten at Bijou, will help bring test scores up to the benchmarks outlined by NCLB.

By taking action, officials expect they’ll be able to avoid some of the more drastic potential ramifications for schools failing to meet the federal goals: reopening the school as a charter school, replacing all or most of the staff, contracting with an outside entity to manage the school or having the state take over. The district does not envision any of these consequences becoming a reality, as they are working hard to bring test scores up, Superintendent James Tarwater said.

Bijou Elementary School and South Tahoe Middle School are each in their fourth year of Program Improvement status, or PI; the district as a whole is in its third year of PI. Program Improvement comes into play after a school hasn’t been meeting Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the federal act.

The district has plenty of company, being among 192 in California and nearly 3,000 U.S. schools taking PI measures required by NCLB, Tarwater said. If a school or district does not meet the NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for two years in a row, they must undergo PI measures.

As well as professional development of staff and assessing students more often through the use of an Online Assessment Reporting System (OARS), the district spends a great deal of time determining how to most effectively deliver assistance to students who need it.

“The positive side (of NCLB) is that the district is assessing kids more frequently,” Tarwater said.

More frequent assessment allows teachers to give students extra help or get them into support classes more quickly than they would if assessments were made less frequently.

At Bijou, the school is in its second year of all-day kindergarten, which allows students who speak English as a second language more exposure to English.

It’s these groups — “sub-groups” in educationese: English learners, socio-economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities — that the district is working most closely with, Tarwater said. NCLB does not separate sub-groups from the rest of the student body.

Making one’s way through the acronyms and jargon used in today’s educational environment is not unlike a nefarious journey into a dark jungle.

Speaking with Tarwater in his office shed light on the issues, however, as he helped to explain what the district has been experiencing since NCLB passed in 2001, requiring schools nationwide to meet yearly goals in terms of the percentage of their students who are proficient or advanced in English and math.

Each year NCLB requires that a higher percentage of students be proficient or advanced in English and math.

This year, for elementary and middle school students, the level of students required to be proficient or advanced in English rises from 24.4 percent to 35.2 percent, and from 26.5 percent to 37 percent for math.

For high school students, the goal rises from 22.3 percent to 33.4 percent for English, and from 20.9 percent to 32.2 percent in math.

After this year there is to be a required 10 percent increase in both English and math until the 2013-14 school year, when all students will be required to be proficient or advanced in English and math.

Tarwater expressed doubt in NCLB.

“I question their model,” Tarwater said. “Growth is how you should measure students.”

California Standards Test (CST) and the Academic Performance Index (API) are a growth-based measure that were in place before NCLB. Students are assessed based on their growth in academic areas since their previous assessment.

South Tahoe Middle School Principal Jackie Nelson pointed out that last spring each sub-group at the middle school needed 4 to 8 points of growth to achieve API goals. Each sub-group exceeded that with growth between 19 to 50 points, but failed to make the federal AYP goals, Nelson said.

“Our goal should be every child reaching their full potential,” Tarwater said.


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