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Educators say test system is broken

By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County schools continue to outpace their peers statewide academically, yet a record number of schools and districts in the county have failed to meet federal benchmarks laid out in the No Child Left Behind law, according to data released Wednesday.

Both the state Academic Performance Index and the federal No Child Left Behind law’s adequate yearly progress targets are based largely on the Standardized Testing and Reporting exams given to students in grades two through 11 each spring.

But depending on who is analyzing the STAR scores, the results tell a dramatically different story.

Fifty-four percent of Sonoma County schools have met the state goal of a score of 800 or higher out of a possible 1,000 on the state’s Academic Performance Index, above the 49 percent of schools that met that goal statewide.

But a record number of campuses have been flagged by federal officials as failing because not all students in all sub-categories — including those with disabilities and those learning English — met spiking academic targets.

Statewide, of the 6,157 schools that received Title 1 funds, 3,892 — 63 percent — are in Program Improvement status. Of those, 913 were identified for the first time Wednesday — nearly double the number that were identified last year.

The difference in state and federal scores lies largely in how the different programs define success.

The state scores are based on a growth model under which students, schools and districts are judged by how much their scores increase over time.

The federal standards are based on all students meeting the same requirements at the same time, no matter where they scored when the assessments began.

A record high of 53 Sonoma County schools are now in Program Improvement — 19 of which joined the dubious list this year, Year 1 status. There are five levels of sanctions from Year 1 to Year 5 in the most severe cases. Twenty schools in Sonoma County are in Year 5.

Only 32 percent of Sonoma County elementary schools met federal benchmarks this year, down from 43 percent last year and 77 percent in 2006 when targets for proficiency were significantly lower.

Middle schools had the least success, with only 30 percent meeting federal targets, down from 42 percent last year and 59 percent in 2006.

At the high school level, 48 percent of local high school campuses met all federal benchmarks, up from 45 percent last year but down from 56 percent in 2006.

Educators contend the approximately 11 percent increase in levels of proficiency for all subgroups required this year — including those students learning English, students considered socio-economically disadvantaged, and those with disabilities — is unrealistic.

“We have some groups of students that we don’t seem to be able to reach as much as we need to in order to make them gain 10 to 11 percent increases,” said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of Sonoma County schools.

Although all schools are graded on whether they meet the federal benchmarks, only those campuses that receive Title 1 funds, which target low-income students, can be hit with sanctions and be labeled a Program Improvement school.

Having the state tell schools they are succeeding while the federal government puts warning labels on schools sends a confusing message to parents, teachers and families, Brownell said.

“That is the piece that doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about that,” she said.

In releasing the annual report cards Wednesday, the state schools chief ripped the federal program for unfairly labeling schools failures when the state rewards them for significant academic strides.

“We believe the No Child Left Behind policies are flawed,” he said. “If we stick with that system, another 913 schools will fall into Program Improvement and be labeled failing schools when many of those schools are making significant progress.”

“We need a time out on the No Child Left Behind unfair and arbitrary standards that can’t be met,” he said.

In the Mark West District, San Miguel Elementary School posted a 14-point gain to reach 866 on the API scale — well above both the state proficiency goal of 800 and the statewide average for elementary schools of 808.

And yet the school will be labeled a Program Improvement campus because it failed to meet federal targets in one of the 17 categories.

“We play two different games,” said Mark West Superintendent Ron Calloway who last year was principal at San Miguel.

“What are parents supposed to make of this when on one hand, California is reporting growth and on the other hand, the federal government under No Child Left Behind is saying you are not performing.”

Calloway said San Miguel posted a 51-point API gain for Latino students last year but missed the mark for socio-economically disadvantaged students, thereby getting flagged by the feds.

“Schools like that are moving in the right direction,” Torlakson said of schools posting significant API gains while failing to meet all federal benchmarks. “It’s just plain wrong to have the federal government have a system that labels them a failure. It’s confusing to parents and demoralizing to teachers.”

And yet the same theme is playing out across the county and state.

In Santa Rosa City Schools, historically high achieving campuses Hidden Valley and Proctor Terrace elementaries notched API scores of 906 and 905 respectively but still failed to meet all of the federal benchmarks laid out under Adequate Yearly Progress.

Those campuses will not face sanctions because they do not receive Title 1 funds — but the mixed message from federal and state officials is frustrating, according to local educators.

“We absolutely don’t want to leave any child behind, but the amount the bar is raised each time is really very difficult for any school — even for those of us who have traditionally achieved the scores that have been expected of us,” said Hidden Valley Principal Patty McCaffrey.

Last week, Torlakson sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking for relief from federal penalties — especially in light of California’s budget crisis. On Wednesday, Torlakson said he had received no response from Duncan’s office.

Local educators credit No Child Left Behind with bringing to light the needs of all students on campus, including those with learning disabilities and those who are learning the English language.

But many of those same educators point to Wednesday’s test results as a glaring example of how No Child Left Behind is flawed, arguing that expecting all students to score proficient or advanced in core subjects no matter their background is unrealistic and to label all schools that don’t meet this goal as failures is unfair.

“Assessment is important, evaluation is important but the benchmark that you put there is what is going to be of value. If you put in something that is not realistic, it has no value,” said Steve Herrington, superintendent of Sonoma County schools.

—–O—–

DIG DEEPER

Click here to search a Press Democrat database with test scores for North Bay schools





13 Responses to “Educators say test system is broken”

  1. Commonsense says:

    In my humble opinion, education goals, guidelines and funding should all be state issues. The Federal government should not be the one deciding what the standards and goals are for each school across the nation. States should collectively opt out and stop sending so much of our public funds to Washington D.C. Maybe then, we could really re-do CA’s education system. I would start by requiring every child know english prior to enrollment in any class, and if they can’t speak, read or write it then have a separate program/institution for that purpose alone which would allow them to mainstream when appropriate. I’d change teaching standards and testing standards, but that’s just me and I’m sure that in this politically correct society those ideas would dismissed quite quickly.

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  2. Western Cluebird says:

    Shirley Durban wrote ” NCLB was established to make it possible for public vouchers to fund private christian schools. It was shrouded, with the help of the business community, Bill Gates, National Chamber of Commerce, etc. to make us sound like we weren’t educating our youth, while all the while national policy was also making it easier and more lucrative for corporations to ship our jobs offshore.

    If NCLB was passed to do these things, it is a bigger failure than I thought!
    I still had to pay taxes for public education while I had my kids in private school.
    In truth,the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was sheparded through congress by Ted Kennedy, one of its sponsors.
    It received overwhelming bipartisan support in congress.
    The House of Representatives passed the bill on May 23, 2001 (voting 384-45) and the United States Senate passed it on June 14, 2001 (voting 91-8).
    It was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002.
    NCLB is federal legislation that enacts the theories of standards-based education reform.
    Touted as “optional” the Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. If a state opts out, their tax money will be used for other states.
    Standards are set by each individual state.
    Since enactment, congress increased federal funding of education from $ 42.2 billion in 2001 to $ 54.4 billion in 2007.In total; federal funding for education increased 59.8 % from 2000 to 2003.
    NCLB increases were companions to another massive increase in federal funding at that time. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA saw increases to part B, a state formula-funding program that distributes money to local districts for the education of students with disabilities from $ 6.3 billion in 2001 to $ 10.1 billion in 2004, a 60% increase.
    NCLB now unifies conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, teachers and many others in opposition to it.
    The theory that “If we pay for it, they will pass” has been proven wrong.
    A problem that I see is that these programs never really go away, the name is changed and the funding increased to make each president seem like he is doing something to address the education problem.
    Three bills were passed by Bill Clinton and congress in 1994. These bills were
    (1) The Goals 2000 Educate America Act
    (2) The school-to-work opportunities Act (abbreviated as “school-to-work” or “STU” and
    (3) The funding appropriations bill for most federal education programs (known as HR6).
    On March 13, 2010 President Obama’s administration released its blueprint for revising NCLB called Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
    It is more of the same type of federal meddling that has created this problem in the first place.

    Repeated attempts by some misinformed individuals to paint this as some sort of conservative conspiracy fall flat when the facts are examined.

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  3. Something Gots to be Done says:

    It is not the tests that are broken, its the bureaucrats and teachers who give the tests and don’t want to be held responsible for the results.

    When they are teaching kids the colors in the 4th grade the game is over.

    The whole system needs to be reformed starting with holding teachers accountable for teaching to standards and kids learning the basics. If the kids can’t learn or don’t want to learn, stop making excuses and fix the problem. It not the tests, its the system that needs vast repair.

    As the people at SMART would say, they are on the wrong track.

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  4. Shirley Durban says:

    NCLB was established to make it possible for public vouchers to fund private christian schools. It was shrouded, with the help of the business community, Bill Gates, National Chamber of Commerce, etc. to make us sound like we weren’t educating our youth, while all the while national policy was also making it easier and more lucrative for corporations to ship our jobs offshore. This still is the biggest ‘smoke and mirror’ ‘job not’ that you and I, and our kids, will pay for forever. Behind? Oh yes, you have been led led astray with sheep talk…

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  5. David J. Spencer says:

    Folks:

    We should not lose sight of why NCLB was enacted in the first place: we were losing educational achievement parity with other countries, and now, many years after the enactment of NCLB, that fact hasn’t changed–we are way behind other countries.

    It is disconcerting that our state educators are saying that the Federal goals are too difficult to reach. All kinds of reasons are given, but they smack of the college student who suddenly becomes “sick” before an important mid-term or final examination. There is no illness; just a lack of willingness to do the work that is required to pass the test.

    In the meantime we are steadily falling behind what other countries are able to educationally achieve.

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  6. Alex says:

    Here is a simple solution to every parent reading this…THIS IS YOUR CHILD, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE THEY STUDY AND DO THEIR HOMEWORK. WE HAVE BECOME A CULTURE OF BLAMING EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY…LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND YOU WILL FIND THE BLAME FOR ALMOST EVERY WRONG DOING WITH YOUR CHILD…LITTLE JOHNNIE IS NOT SMART BECAUSE YOU DON’T SPEND TIME WITH HIM..IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO DO WELL IF YOU DON’T STUDY..THE TEACHER WILL ONLY SHOW YOU IN LESS THAN 50 MINS..DO YOU REALIZE FOR EVERY COURSE THEY HAVE TO SPEND 3 HOURS A WEEK STUDYING? NOT TOTAL OF 3 HOURS A WEEK BUT FOR EVERY COURSE SO FOR MATH, ENGLISH, HISTORY, SCIENCE THAT TOTAL 12 HOURS OF STUDYING TIME…NOT WITH MUSIC, NOT WITH TV, NOT WITH IPHONES, NOT WITH VIDEO GAMES..JUST QUIET TIME FOR EACH SUBJECT..AND ABOVE ALL NOT WITH YOU YELLING AND BOTHERING THEM. STUDY IS QUIET TIME. NOW, LOOK BACK IN THE MIRROR AND SAY, HMMMM…DO I HAVE HIM SIT DOWN FOR 12 HOURS A WEEK OR JUST LET HIM PLAY…DO I CHECK HIS WORK…DO I CHECK IN WITH HIS TEACHER WEEKLY? IF THE ANSWER IS NO, THEN BLAME YOURSELF. OTHERWISE, YOUR CHILD MAY JUST BE DUMB.

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  7. Frank says:

    won’t leave any chid behind, which holds all the others back.
    the greatest minds in the last 150 years those that contribute greatly to mankind had a grade average of the 5th grade
    yeah Einstien too school was too boring for him

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  8. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Clearly we just haven’t spent enough money. Once the FED gets done with this next round of “Quantitative Easing” (printing money) we should have PLENTY of doe to fix this problem.

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  9. Reality Check says:

    The No Child Left Behind law was the result of an achievement gap between students the Feds mandated be closed.

    How was that gap uncovered? By test results. Odd, isn’t it, when test results indicate one thing they were accepted as truthful; when the result is unwanted, we denounce testing.

    One suspects schools wanted the money but without accountability that it accomplish the end for which it was appropriated.

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  10. A Teachable Moment says:

    No test would meet the undefined standards of what teachers will tolerate to evaluate their teaching abilities. This has been demonstrated many times in many places.

    California has too many kids that do not speak English and come from families that do not value education or this culture. They are tied to their country of origin and the culture they left.

    Given this combination, how could an educational system be expected to be successful.

    Money has been thrown at the problem for years with little or no result. Teachers blame the tests, parents blame the teachers and schools for failing.

    Who is right? Probably both sides. Things will not change until this country gets control of the border and people who come here want to become citizens and buy into our system and culture. A country without respecting its history, culture and language will fail.

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  11. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    One flaw in the system is the old 20/80 rule. While not necessarily accurate percentages in this example, the rule means that 20% of the students receive 80% of the available funding, or conversely, 80% of the available funding is dedicated to only 20% of the students.

    Whatever the actual percentages, I’m quite certain that too much funding is allocated to a select group that needs all the extra help, such as English as a Second Language Learners. That means the average to better than average students are left to swim for themselves.

    The system needs to me re-designed from the ground up, but never will be until the parents of average to better than average students rise up and protest.

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  12. Steveguy says:

    No child left behind ?

    Since this scheme, the drop-out rate has skyrocketed.

    It should be re-named- ” Children left behind”.

    The Fed rules for testing result in what we have. Quit teaching to the test,and teach kids how to learn on their own. Please.

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  13. Cate says:

    Apparently, the term “educators” is used very loosely.

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