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News Clips

Dec. 12 to 19, 2003

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Houston Schools Wary in Educational Software Deal with Neil Bush / Houston Chronicle

7 district schools win state appeals TEA says six others failed to make adequate yearly progress / Dallas Morning News

Education Sec. Defends Houston Schools / AP

Teachers aides face tough new standards under federal act / AP

Funding input offered on GATE; Gifted-students program weighs options for smaller budget / Fresno Bee

Getting a new kick ; Schools try non-traditional PE classes to get kids moving / Grand Rapids Press

NCLB becomes guidepost / Journal News (White Plains, NY)

At Bard College, a Plan to Teach Teachers More of What They're Teaching / New York Times

Urban scores below national average, but other comparisons show promise / Boston Globe

Religious clothing generally allowed in U.S. schools / CNN.com
Other big cities top Chicago on tests; Charlotte, N.Y. lead urban areas / Chicago Tribune
Study Finds Special Ed Disparities; Race, Income Affect Treatment of Students / Washington Post
No Child Left Behind act must change, officials say / Atlanta Journal-Constitution
2003 SCHOOL REPORT CARD. Pupils buck trend at least in 1 place / Chicago Tribune
Meaningful conclusions put in doubt; Errors fill state testing data / Chicago Tribune

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Houston Schools Wary in Educational Software Deal with Neil Bush 

 

By Ron Nissimov, Houston Chronicle, December 14, 2003

 

Dec. 14--As Neil Bush's soap-operatic life took another twist in France last week with his engagement over chocolates and champagne, he hoped that a business deal back in Houston would help him move forward with his new calling.

 

On Thursday, the Houston Independent School District board was scheduled to seal a deal that could have given Bush's fledgling educational software company, Ignite, an important edge over competitors in the $7 billion-a-year industry.

 

The board in June already had approved spending $115,000 this academic year to use the company's eighth-grade U.S. history curriculum in 23 schools, on the condition that Bush and the HISD Foundation come up with an additional $115,000 to fully fund the program. Bush and the foundation, a philanthropic organization, lived up to their end of the bargain, persuading several wealthy Houstonians and major corporations to pony up the funds.

 

But the board voted 5-3 to delay accepting the donations, with some board members saying they worried they might be accused of helping Bush cash in on his family name.

 

Bush's business dealings have recently come under scrutiny with his contentious divorce from his wife, Sharon. In a deposition, Bush admitted that Ignite investor Winston Wong, a Taiwanese semiconductor tycoon, paid him $2 million in stock for consulting in the semiconductor industry, even though he has no experience in the field.

 

"I'm not, as a trustee, going to engage in another debacle; we've had enough of those on our hands," said board member Larry Marshall, referring to the dropout reporting scandal that has recently rocked HISD.

Even though Ignite has been implemented in 17 HISD middle schools and six high schools since August, board members asked for more information about the program's performance and how HISD entered into the agreement before approving the outside funding.

 

Ken Leonard, president of Ignite, said he understands why HISD trustees would want to keep a "low profile" because of recent negative coverage, but he expects the matter to be quickly resolved.

 

The Austin-based company has been frequently examined in the media since Bush founded it in 1999, primarily because of its unusual funding sources and his family ties. Some of the $23 million the company has raised in four rounds of financing has come from foreign oil and computer magnates, and other funds have come from GOP donors who are close to the Bush family. Commentators and watchdog groups have suggested that these contributions were made in the hopes of gaining access to the White House.

 

They also note that Bush's two brothers are strong advocates of educational policies that could greatly benefit his company. President Bush made educational accountability one of his top priorities as Texas governor, and he is now pushing similar policies nationally through the No Child Left Behind initiative. Jeb Bush has taken similar positions as governor of Florida.

 

School administrators and teachers, increasingly judged by how many of their students pass state-mandated accountability tests, are often turning to educational software to try to motivate bored or troubled students.

"Sales in Texas are usually driven by mathematics and reading, but we expect social studies will be emerging as a more important subject area in the next few years, largely as a result of TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the new state-mandated test)," said Tom Deliganis of Houston, regional vice president for Plato Learning, the largest provider of educational software in the state.

Deliganis said Neil Bush tried to hire him in 2000.

 

"He's a competitor, and I don't necessarily want to see him do well, but I don't get the impression he's a sleazy guy," Deliganis said. "I get the impression he's trying to improve education."

 

But few can forget Bush's checkered business history. In the late 1980s, he served as director of Silverado Savings and Loan, which collapsed during the S&L scandal and cost taxpayers about $1 billion. A civil lawsuit against Bush and other Silverado officers was settled for $49.5 million.

 

Bush, 47, last week denied that he is trying to capitalize on his brothers' substantial influence.

 

"I've had zero conversation (with my brothers) regarding policy, and effectively none about my business," he said.

 

He called his new business a "definite lifelong focus of mine."

 

A dyslexic student who often fell behind in middle school, Bush said he endured an oppressive school environment but persevered to earn a bachelor's degree and an MBA from Tulane University in New Orleans.

 

"I worked harder than the average student and survived grade school, but have scarred memories of a stifling learning environment," Bush wrote in an e-mail exchange with the Houston Chronicle from France, where he proposed to his Houston girlfriend, Maria Andrews.

 

Bush said he developed an interest in educational reform after seeing his son Pierce go through a similar painful experience. After researching "multiple intelligences" and other educational theories, Bush said, "I developed the core beliefs that drive our business."

 

Developed by a Harvard cognition expert, multiple intelligence theory posits that students have different types of "intelligences" -- visual, auditory or interpersonal, for example -- and that traditional schooling does not work for all types.

 

"The one-size-fits-all method of instruction fails most students," Bush wrote. "We believe learning is best accomplished by doing. Learning is an active process that involves thinking. Learning is only partly about memorization, memorizing leads to forgetting. And finally we believe there is an unrealized potential for harnessing the power of technology to allow teachers to make individual and unique connections with each student."

 

Sam Wineburg, a Stanford University education professor and a leading expert on the teaching of history, said that while he is not familiar with Ignite software, he doubts the underlying theory.

"Multiple-intelligence theory has absolutely no data to support it," he said.

 

Ignite develops products for middle-school students. It offers an eighth-grade U.S. history curriculum, and it plans to develop software for math, science and language arts. It is available in some high schools for remedial programs and students with limited English proficiency.

 

Ignite president Leonard said this is the first full year the company has sold its product. Previously, it provided software free to schools around the country to generate a track record. Most of the 40,000 students who use the software are in Texas, Leonard said, but others are in Florida, California, Ohio, Georgia, New Jersey, Nevada, Arizona and Oklahoma.

 

HISD is by far the largest user of Ignite products, Leonard said.

 

The company approached HISD in 2002, and the district agreed to pay $45,000 to use the software in six middle schools in 2002-2003. HISD Superintendent Kaye Stripling said the district initially balked at expanding the program because of the annual $10,000-per-school price. Eager to enlist a large number of schools into the program, Bush agreed to let them pay half and raise the rest of the money with the foundation's help.

 

"We wouldn't be able to do that," said Arnold Kleinstein, vice president of WorldView Software, the nation's largest maker of social studies and history educational software, about Bush's ability to quickly persuade movers and shakers to contribute funds.

 

Karen Billings, vice president of a Washington, D.C., educational software trade association, said she finds Bush's fund-raising prowess "very unusual."

 

Former Iranian Ambassador Hushang Ansary, a Houston businessman who is one of the donors to the HISD effort and is an investor in the company, said the suspicion is unfair.

 

"Every time someone succeeds in public service, others look around to penalize people who are members of his family," Ansary said. "I'm not aware of any effort on the part of Neil Bush to benefit from the president's presence in the White House."

Principals, teachers and students in Houston, Austin and the Whitney High School in Cerritos, Calif., interviewed for this story, all raved about the software. The teachers and students were provided by administrators.

 

"My mom heard me sing a history song, and said, 'Where'd you get that from?' " said Elibeth Matamoros, an eighth-grader in HISD's Edison Middle School in the East End. "I never sang about history before."

Edison history teacher Marc Chicoria said he uses Ignite to supplement the class textbook. Since the school started using the program, he said, students have performed better on critical-thinking tests related to social studies.

 

Connie Barr, principal at Mendez Middle School in Austin, said Ignite played a major role in increasing state test scores in social studies by 28 percent a couple of years ago.

But Wineburg, the Stanford professor, said such claims must be evaluated by independent third parties before they can be taken seriously.

 

Ignite and the HISD Foundation are negotiating with the University of Houston's College of Education to research the software.

 

UH Education Dean Robert Wimpelberg said the terms are being hammered out and that the foundation would pay for the project.

 

RESOURCES

 

Investors in Neil Bush's educational software company include:

-- Bush's parents, former President George and Barbara Bush.

-- Winston Wong, a Taiwanese semiconductor tycoon who founded Shanghai Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. with the son of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

-- Former Iranian ambassador to the United States Hushang Ansary, now a Houston businessman and large GOP donor.

-- Cairo businessman Hamza El Khouli, an associate of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and chairman of First Arabian Development and Investment Co.

-- Les and Anne Csorba of Houston, who served in the first Bush administration and donated $2,000 to President Bush's 2000 election campaign.

-- Sofidiv Inc., a division of the Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury goods company.

-- Mohammed Al Saddah of the Ultra Horizon Co. in Kuwait.

Sources: Associated Press; Chronicle research

 

SOFTWARE USERS IN HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

Houston public schools are already using Neil Bush's Ignite educational software on the following campuses:

Middle schools: Burbank, Clifton, Deady, Dowling, Edison, Energized for Excellence, Fleming, Fonville, Hartman, Holland, Jackson, Long, McReynolds, Patrick Henry, The Rice School, Stevenson, Woodson

High schools: Austin, Chavez, Furr, Sam Houston, Sterling, Worthing

 

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7 district schools win state appeals TEA says six others failed to make adequate yearly progress 

 

By BILL LODGE, Dallas Morning News Staff Writer, December 14, 2003

 

Seven Garland school district campuses won appeals to state officials for classification as adequate performers under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

 

But five others lost their appeals to the Texas Education Agency, it was announced last week.

 

And a sixth was added to the list of local schools that did not make "adequate yearly progress."

 

Garland Evening High School was added to the failure list because fewer than half of the six students who took the Texas Education Agency's 10th-grade reading test achieved a passing score, said Martha Vannoy, the district's director of planning, research and evaluation.

 

The student population at the evening school was too small for the action to qualify as a significant problem, Ms. Vannoy said.

 

The five schools that lost appeals - Lakeview and South Garland high schools and Webb, Lyles and Schrade middle schools - made passing grades on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS test.

 

But Ms. Vannoy said they did not meet the federal requirement for 95 percent participation and were therefore on the list of schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

 

That high participation requirement caused hundreds of Texas schools to fall below AYP guidelines and drew criticism from education officials across the nation.

 

"Since it's federal law, the state really can't change it," Ms. Vannoy said.

 

"But they [TEA officials] said that this spring we can have makeup tests for the grades and subjects in the AYP system."

 

She said that means students in grades three through eight, as well as grade 10, will be given a second opportunity to take tests in language arts, reading and mathematics - if they were absent on scheduled test days.

 

"That gives kids a better opportunity to participate," Ms. Vannoy said. "I think the intention [of the federal law] is that we be held accountable for all students. And we want all students to participate. It's just been difficult to reconcile that absences can have such an effect on a school's status."

 

The Garland district has a high TEA ranking, "recognized," and none of its schools are ranked lower than "acceptable."

 

But the new federal AYP requirement could seriously penalize schools that don't meet a 95 percent participation standard for two consecutive years. Such schools would have to notify parents that they could transfer their children to another school and have the district pay the cost of transportation.

 

This year, Lakeview Centennial High School recorded only 94.2 percent participation on the math portion of the TAKS, Ms. Vannoy said.

 

The other schools to fail AYP did so because fewer than 95 percent of students in one or more student subgroups didn't take the TAKS test, Ms. Vannoy said.

 

Under the new federal law, a campus can have 95 percent overall participation in TAKS but fail AYP if that mark is not met by subgroups of 50 or more students in any of six categories: black, Hispanic, white, poor, special education, or those speaking little or no English.

 

The TEA made a slight change in that requirement, Ms. Vannoy said, granting appeals to schools that made the 95 percent mark without having more than nine absences among any student subgroups.

 

That change, she said, resulted in a passing AYP grade for Garland, Naaman Forest, and North Garland high schools; Coyle and Houston middle schools; and Weaver and Steadham elementary schools.

 

Ms. Vannoy said state and local officials hope federal officials take action to reduce the impact of the 95 percent participation requirement in 2004.

 

"We're still waiting to hear about some Department of Education decisions that may affect AYP this coming year," she said.

 

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Education Sec. Defends Houston Schools 

 

By PAM EASTON, Associated Press Writer, December 14, 2003

 

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Education Secretary Rod Paige said opponents of the Bush administration's education reforms are unfairly attacking the Houston school district he once led in an attempt to chip away at the No Child Left Behind law.

 

In an interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Paige said the Houston Independent School District would come out in the top 5 percent of similar-sized school districts if evaluated fairly.

 

Under Paige, Houston was billed as a showcase for the "Texas miracle" in education that then-Gov. George Bush cited in his presidential campaign. But the district has been under fire for what critics say are embellished testing achievements, lower than realistic dropout rates and underreported crime statistics.

"There has been a decided effort to look at the vulnerabilities at the expense of any acknowledgment at all," said Paige, who was in Huntsville Saturday to deliver the commencement speech at Sam Houston State University. "I don't think there is any reason to have any concern about the quality of the system or its management or instruction program."

 

Paige did acknowledge that the dropout definition used by the state of Texas "painted a picture that was generally inconsistent with reality," but added that the definition was put in place before Bush became Texas' governor.

 

"The idea that if we can beat up and make the Houston Independent School District or the state of Texas like some pinata -- beat up on it until something good falls out -- is mistaken because this bill is much broader than that and is much stronger than that," Paige said of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which was based in part on Texas' education reforms begun in the 1980s.

 

The federal law passed in 2001 calls for expanded testing, higher teacher quality and greater achievement among students, particularly those in poor districts.

 

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Teachers aides face tough new standards under federal act 

 

AP, December 13, 2003

 

BOSTON (AP) - Teachers' aides are being forced to buckle down in the classroom as students, rather than instructors, as they prepare to meet tough new national standards in order to keep their jobs.

 

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires school paraprofessionals to either earn an associate's degree or higher, pass a basic skills test or complete two years of relevant coursework at an institution of higher education or approved programs at the district level.

 

The requirements must be met by 2006, or the teachers will lose their jobs.

 

On a recent evening at Brockton High School, 23 teachers' aides attended a class on the basics of writing, including paragraph development, strong verbs and vivid adjectives.

 

"The more I can learn about coming up with strategies to help (students), the better it is for them and me," Lisa Durant, a 37-year-old Avon mother and teachers' aide, told The Boston Globe.

 

Teachers' aides have seen their classroom roles increase in recent years, as an influx of special education students and tougher overall standards shifted duties from mundane tasks, such as stapling papers, to direct involvement in a child's learning.

 

Most paraprofessionals are women and mothers, and many have only a high school diploma. As many as 75 percent of the 10,000 paraprofessionals represented by the MTA do not meet the requirements of the law, with the highest concentration of those in the cities, said Kathleen Skinner, director of professional development at the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

 

"In essence, what you have is the neediest kids getting services from the least capable person," Skinner said. "Not that the para is not capable of being capable, but it's rather that the districts have ignored them."

School officials expect many aides will retire rather than meet the tougher requirements. Those who plan to stay wonder if their salaries will reflect their new skill level. Nationally, teachers' aides make an average of about $15,350, compared with a teacher's average salary of $45,930.

 

"There should be requirements," said Carol Belmont, a Boston special-education paraprofessional. "But if they expect us to meet these requirements, they need to match that with the pay scale going up."

 

In the class at Brockton High, concerns about the new requirement give way to the fun of learning. Linda Woo, a 54-year-old library aide at the Brookfield Elementary School in Brockton, learned how to distinguish students' grade levels by the words they read and write, down to the number of syllables.

"I can't tell you how exciting that was," she said. 

 

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Funding input offered on GATE; Gifted-students program weighs options for smaller budget 

 

Tim Bragg, Fresno Bee, December 12, 2003

 

VISALIA - With new state and federal standards calling for better performances from struggling students, programs for those who are brighter than most are seeing their budgets shrink.

 

To help give parents and students more say in how the limited funds for Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE, are spent, the Visalia Unified School District has mandated the creation of advisory committees at each school.

 

The committees, made up mostly of the parents of GATE students, give recommendations to each school's principal on how they would like to see the GATE budget spent, said district Superintendent Stan Carrizosa.

 

"We wanted to give parents the chance to influence how to spend the GATE money," Carrizosa said. "This makes everyone work together in a positive way."

 

Parents at most schools held their first committee meetings over the last month or two.

 

Jonathan Schouest, an 18-year-old Mt. Whitney High School senior who sits on his school's GATE committee, said the school uses some of its GATE funds to send students to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to help broaden their understanding of art and culture.

 

"We've talked about trying to increase people's awareness of GATE," Schouest said. "There are a lot of parents who say they've never heard of it."

 

But the committees don't have much money to work with.

 

The amount of funding each school receives depends on how many GATE students it has. Carrizosa said the total amounts can range from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the school and its population.

 

The amount of money schools get for each GATE pupil was slightly lowered this year as the district deals with lower levels of overall funding from the state, said Karen Rowe, administrator of curriculum and instruction for the district.

 

She said most schools use the money for training teachers and buying instruction materials.

 

Carrizosa said the committees were formed in part because the district is reviewing its GATE policies to put them in line with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

 

But the committees also came about after a brouhaha over GATE students last school year at Royal Oaks Elementary School.

 

The school had a decreasing number of students a few years ago as many of the residents in the neighborhood aged beyond their child-raising years, Carrizosa said.

 

The district allowed students from other schools to transfer to Royal Oaks, and Carrizosa said teachers used some innovative techniques with gifted students.

 

"We never had a formal GATE program at Royal Oaks, but there were a lot of GATE students there," he said.

 

Carrizosa said younger families began to move back into the area, and the transfer policy had to end so they could accommodate new students at their neighborhood school.

 

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Getting a new kick ; Schools try non-traditional PE classes to get kids moving 

 

Kym Reinstadler, Grand Rapids Press, December 11, 2003

 

HOLLAND -- "Students" of three Matrix movies and scores of Jackie Chan films didn't think those martial arts jumps, jabs, kicks and chops would be difficult to master.

 

Every move seems measured and must be delivered with control. Getting it right is arduous.

 

"It's fun to be doing those moves, but it's harder than it looks," said Matt Horn, an eighth-grader at West Middle School, who got three tae kwon-do lessons in a six-week "encore" physical fitness class. "It's a good workout."

 

Patricia Fodor and Jim Vandermeer, West's physical education teachers, introduce students to some non-traditional sports such as tae kwon-do, badminton, archery, floor hockey and dance aerobics. Their hope is students will experience some fitness activities they enjoy enough to do throughout their lifetime.

 

They say they don't get enough time with students to get or keep them physically fit. So their aim is to teach lessons and skills the students can use to keep themselves fit and ignite a passion for being healthy.

"Sometimes it seems like there's this big fitness craze going on, but we find that strong emphasis is clustered in a small percentage of students," Vandermeer said. "I'd say only one-third to one-half of our kids are regularly involved in some physical activity outside of school."

 

That's why several physical education teachers are concerned gym seems to be getting crowded out of the school day -- a trend that parallels a nationwide increase in childhood obesity.

 

Holland Community Hospital Foundation is preparing to launch a pilot program targeting childhood obesity next year. A recent local survey by the Frost Center for Social Science research revealed parents think their children are getting more physical activity than they actually are.

 

And many of the parents themselves are not very active. A report by the Governor's Council says that 55 percent of Michigan adults fail to meet a minimum standard of fitness, as determined by engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days per week.

 

"I don't want to say it's a battle, but more and more it feels like a battle getting time with the kids," said Tim deForest, a PE teacher at Waukazoo and Woodside elementaries. "An administrator once said to me, 'You just taught a great lesson, but how does it relate to the MEAP?' "

 

DeForest doesn't like having to justify physical education as if it were a luxury.

 

"I'm teaching activities to keep your body healthy," deForest said. "If you don't have your health, not much else matters."

 

Regular physical activity improves a child's physical, psychological and emotional health. There's also a compelling link between a child's physical well-being and his or her ability to achieve in the classroom, said Bob Haveman, an elementary gym teacher who leads Holland Public Schools PE department.

 

Michigan's Education YES legislation doesn't require public schools to teach physical education. Neither does the national No Child Left Behind legislation.

 

These programs hold schools accountable for students' continual improvement in academics. That's why educators in many districts are devoting more time in the school day to language arts, math, science and social studies, and less time to physical education and fine arts.

 

"If the school day was a 2-pound sack, we're guilty of trying to load 3 pounds into it," Haveman said. "It's all good stuff, but there's not time or money for everything."

 

Although he sees the big picture, Haveman believes parents need help from schools to get their children -- especially the non- athletes -- up and moving.

 

Vandermeer said his most satisfying experience as a teacher came from an eighth-grader who ran a 12-minute mile.

 

That's not a feat you will read about on the sports pages, but it inspired cheers and high fives among the rest of the class.

 

That student had been very overweight as a sixth-grader, and had difficulty walking a mile.

 

He steadily became more fit over two years to run the mile in 12 minutes. The accomplishment excited everyone, Vandermeer said.

 

"I wish we had it every day of the year because it's my favorite class," said Alyssa Israels, a member of West Middle School's eighth- grade girls basketball team. "It makes me feel good."

 

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NCLB becomes guidepost 

 

James Withers, The Journal News, December 11, 2003

  

For Tuckahoe's School Superintendent Dr. Michael Yazurlo the "No Child Left Behind" law - a federal mandate that requires states to set appropriate achievement standards for children - does not provide appropriate financial support.

 

"The law produces many mandates costing lots of money, but (does) not provide much money. We finally have a system of accountability in place. Public schools need to be accountable like anyone else, but when you realize public schools function as a product of taxpayer money, we can't always go to the taxpayer when we get unfunded mandates from the federal or state governments."

 

The NCLB law is the product of President George W. Bush. When Bush ran for office in 1999, he made public education reform an important plank in his campaign.

 

Using some ideas from his tenure as governor of Texas, Bush argued that one way to improve schools was to test students yearly so districts could gauge if children were learning. This idea has transformed into the most extensive federal intervention in public education since the 1960s.

 

NCLB, which applies to all public schools across the country, requires states to come up with levels of achievement for grades 3 to 8, and to administer annual tests to see if students are meeting state expectations.

 

If schools do not meet their own standards, then parents may exercise certain rights, such as sending a child to another district school or having the district provide tutoring. Those rights are now mentioned on the New York State Education Department Web site: www.nysed.gov.

 

"(NCLB) has pretty sweeping changes in it, and we felt it was important that parents be aware of the various aspects of the act," said Tom Dunn, New York state's education spokesperson.

 

There are three important parts of NCLB. The law requires that by 2014 all students should "be performing at the proficiency level in reading, language arts, math, and science." Yearly progress must be shown to reach that goal and Title I schools that do not show progress in the same subject and grade two years in a row will be tagged as schools "in need of improvement."

 

Such schools must make public their plan of bettering scores. Local and state education officials have to inform parents what is happening on the respective levels to improve the school. Children attending these schools may be allowed to transfer to a different school in the district or receive extra help supplied by the district. States are required to keep a list of schools designated "in need of improvement."

 

Even schools not designated as such will be asked to come up with progress reports. At the end of the academic year, every school is required to create a public report card on how well the school is meeting the academic standards created by the state.

 

The report card will also inform parents as to how many students are functioning at high or low levels. Achievement levels will also be broken down according to "sub-groups" based on gender, economic backgrounds, racial groups and language backgrounds.

 

Small school districts such as Tuckahoe, Bronxville or Eastchester or even a larger city such as New Rochelle, are defined as achieving under the rules of the federal law.

 

Nonetheless, this year the New Rochelle district announced a new initiative in which testing will take place in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 in addition to the yearly state assessments already taking place in grades 4 and 8. The new tests are meant to be a tool for the district and parents, and will not be publicly announced as are the standard assessments.

 

At present, it is uncertain how NCLB will ultimately be implemented; that uncertainty, however, does not change the fact that NCLB is the new guidepost for public education.

 

But for Yazurlo, NCLB is fraught with problems, especially economic ones.

 

"I will follow the law to the letter, but as a practicing superintendent it is a bit disconcerting," Yazurlo said.

 

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At Bard College, a Plan to Teach Teachers More of What They're Teaching 

 

By KAREN W. ARENSON, New York Times, December 14, 2003

 

Leon Botstein has long believed that teachers colleges have been getting it all wrong. Now he is doing something about it.

 

As the president of Bard College, Dr. Botstein is starting a master's degree program for prospective high school teachers that will address a widespread complaint: that teachers do not know enough about the subjects they teach.

 

"The education schools in the United States have had an unfortunate stranglehold on teacher training," he said, "and they have created a pseudoscience in pedagogy and wasted the time of future teachers by not deepening the knowledge that future teachers need."

 

In the Bard program, students will take as many courses in the subjects they are going to teach — English, history, physics or math — as they will in pedagogy. In most graduate education programs, students mostly take courses about how to teach and few, if any, graduate courses in their fields.

 

Dr. Botstein said he hoped the new Bard Master of Arts in Teaching program would serve as a model for reshaping teacher education. The program was approved by the New York State Education Department last month and will start in June.

 

David G. Imig, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, in Washington, said he did not know of any program like Bard's. Supported by the Ford Foundation, a flurry of Master of Arts in Teaching programs were created about 40 years ago to try to emphasize subject knowledge. But the approach never caught on, said Alison R. Bernstein, a Ford Foundation vice president.

 

Dr. Imig said most teacher education programs now emphasize pedagogy and reflect the regulations of the states they are in.

 

Doris T. Garner, who oversees the evaluation of teacher education programs for New York State, said the state does not require a specific number of courses or credits in pedagogy, but looks at whether certain "competencies" are being taught, including knowledge about human development, how students learn and how to manage a classroom.

 

"If a school of education had no pedagogy," she said, "it wouldn't fly."

 

Dr. Botstein said he would have liked even more training in subject knowledge and less pedagogy, but had to compromise to meet New York's regulations. But he said that many of the pedagogy courses, like Current Issues in Learning and Teaching: The Adolescent, would be taught by people trained in fields like sociology, history and neurosciences, rather than in pedagogy.

 

Bard is also asking that applicants have an undergraduate major in the subject they want to teach, or equivalent course work.

 

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and an advocate of stronger teacher preparation, said the course work described in Bard's catalog appeared "for the most part, substantive and rigorous."

 

But, she added, "much of the surrounding rhetoric about methods and goals" — material on teacher reflection and critical thinking, for example — "sounds very much like a typical ed school."

 

But some education deans, like Alfred S. Posamentier of the School of Education at the City College of New York, say understanding pedagogy is as important as mastering subject matter. "Teaching is not a pseudoscience; it is an art," he said. "Teachers need to be expert in their field, but they also need to know how to communicate that knowledge and how to excite their students."

 

Bard, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., about 90 miles north of New York City, already operates two colleges that are different from most others. Simon's Rock in Massachusetts is intended for students who want to start college early, typically after 10th or 11th grade. The Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, which Bard created with New York City two years ago, is an effort to extend a similar opportunity to urban public school students. In the four years that they would normally complete high school, they complete two years of college.

 

Dr. Botstein said that starting the high school renewed his conviction that teachers need better preparation. The school hired college professors with doctorates to teach many of the classes in the second two years of the program, but hired regular high school teachers for the 9th- and 10th-grade classes. Finding 9th- and 10th-grade teachers steeped in their disciplines was "one of the issues that came up," he said.

 

Bard also runs the Institute for Writing and Thinking, which has trained 47,000 teachers from middle schools, high schools and colleges in the past 21 years. Ric Campbell, the former associate director of the institute and a former public school teacher, is directing the new master's degree program.

 

Students will pay $24,500 in tuition for the 12-month program. They will take six graduate courses in their fields and six in pedagogy. They will also have extensive student teaching experience and conduct research in schools about what kind of teaching is most effective.

 

Bard hopes to have 40 to 60 students in its first class, with no more than 15 per discipline, and to add disciplines and students as it goes along.

 

Bard has arranged to work with some public schools nearby; their officials, including Jan Volpe, superintendent of the Red Hook Central School District, with 2,375 students, say they are excited by the program. "We do need to challenge our high schoolers more than in the past," Dr. Volpe said, "so it is a good thing to have strong knowledge-based preparation. Kids are much more sophisticated today, and have a great deal of knowledge that they have learned in other places."

 

But, she added, subject knowledge has to be balanced with pedagogy, because "not everybody can teach."

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Urban scores below national average, but other comparisons show promise 

 

By Ben Feller, Associated Press, 12/17/2003

 

WASHINGTON -- Students in some of the nation's largest urban school districts score below the national average on federal math and reading tests, scores released Wednesday show.

 

But in these urban centers, where large numbers of disadvantaged kids live, students compete well when compared with national peers of the same race, ethnicity or economic level.

 

Ten school districts volunteered to set the city benchmark in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, regarded as the nation's report card on a range of subjects. The goal is to give these cities a valid way to compare themselves with areas that share problems and population trends and to track their progress on a test known for its stringent scoring.

 

Across the country, in reading, only 30 percent of fourth-graders and eighth-graders reach at least the key level, proficient, which means competency over difficult material. In math, 31 percent of fourth-graders and 27 percent of eighth-graders do at least that well.

 

In almost every case, the city students did worse, the new scores show. That means less than three out of 10 students achieved at the level they should have, based on federal standards.

 

The sole exception was Charlotte, N.C., where students met the national average in reading and exceeded it in math. Charlotte has far fewer minorities than the other areas, and black and Hispanic students typically score below whites on standardized tests. This achievement gap has fueled changes that include much more aggressive federal oversight of education.

 

Yet Charlotte also has tried to enroll more black students in high-level math courses, said Ross Wiener, policy director of The Education Trust, which advocates for poor and minority students. The variation in scores among the urban districts shows how much state and district policies affect student learning, he said.

 

The chosen school districts account for one out of eight of the nation's poor students, one out of seven minority students and one out of six students with limited English.

 

Beyond Charlotte, the districts are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City and San Diego. The District of Columbia was included for comparison, although its results were released earlier with state and national numbers.

 

Overall, Charlotte, New York City, San Diego, Boston and Houston had the highest percentages of students performing at a proficient level or better.

 

Darvin Winick, chairman of the independent board that oversees the test, said the scores should erode the myth that students in urban districts can't compete. City comparisons to national averages can obscure the fact that, in a few cases, black students in the cities scored better than blacks nationwide, as also was the case for some Hispanic students.

 

Still, notable performance gaps with whites persisted.

 

"I'm not saying it's a positive finding for minorities. What I'm saying is it's not the urban district environment that's driving it," said Winick, an education adviser to President Bush when Bush was governor of Texas. "It just removes that as one of the excuses: `We can't educate them because they're in the inner city."'

 

Education Secretary Rod Paige commended the districts for taking part. His views of the results were less rosy than those of Winick, whom Paige appointed to his post.

 

"The achievement gap in these districts is something that I find truly worrisome," Paige said. "It is a problem nationally, but in some of the districts, it is abysmal. ... As a nation, we must stand united against a culture that mocks academic success in certain communities."

 

This is the first time in the test's history, which dates to 1969, that district scores were available in math. Six of the cities took part in the first district-level reading tests in 2002, and most of them have improved their scores since last year, said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of urban districts.

 

The reading test ranged from literary analysis to comprehension of basic daily tasks, while the math test covered such areas as probability, algebra and mathematical reasoning.

 

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Religious clothing generally allowed in U.S. schools 

 

AP, Wednesday, December 17, 2003 

 

French President Jacques Chirac's call to ban religious symbols and clothing in state schools and hospitals has met with controversy in France and around the globe. What's the policy in the United States?

 

American students generally have the right to wear religious garb such as a Jewish skullcap, a Muslim scarf or a cross in public school, although restrictions can be made if the school has a dress code that is not directed at a particular faith.

 

For example, a school trying to limit gang activity may set a dress code that incidentally bars religious clothing like headwear, according to Jeffrey Sinensky, general counsel for the American Jewish Committee.

 

If a school has such a dress code, administrators still have the power to make exceptions if a student asks to wear a religious item. School officials usually accommodate students, though occasionally disputes arise that make their way into court, said Sinensky and Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group.

 

Hooper said there have been sporadic cases in which school districts have attempted to ban headscarves or persuade Muslim girls not to wear them, usually from a mistaken belief that they disrupt the school environment. But the conflicts have usually been quickly resolved, he said.

 

Rules regarding what teachers can wear are different. Several states bar public school teachers from wearing religious clothing, in an attempt to have a religiously neutral classroom.

 

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Other big cities top Chicago on tests; Charlotte, N.Y. lead urban areas 

By Lori Olszewski, Tribune staff reporter, December 18, 2003

Despite years of efforts at education reform, Chicago's public school students lag behind many of their big-city peers in a new set of test results.

Students from the Charlotte area and New York performed best on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to a federal analysis released Wednesday.

The Trial Urban District Assessment, the broadest national comparison of its kind, sampled several thousand students' scores in 10 urban areas, to compare students who face similar challenges, such as poverty and language barriers.

Students in Washington performed the worst, while Chicago students ranked below average in three of the four major categories. The report also compared the urban students' scores to national averages for NAEP, which is now administered across the country as part of the No Child Left Behind federal reforms. While the cities generally fell below the national average, Charlotte exceeded it in many areas.

"On the one hand, it's encouraging to see proof-positive that big urban districts can educate students as well as other districts, and that demography does not determine achievement," said Kati Haycock, director of the non-profit Education Trust. "But it's also a reminder of how far some of our biggest districts have to go to realize the learning potential of their students."

Some educators said the school systems that did well, such as Charlotte and New York, consistently spent extra money on the worst-performing students. They also targeted money at specific problems, using funds to relieve crowding in some schools, for example, while extending the instruction day at others, or attracting better teachers with bonuses.

In Chicago, shifting goals and political obstacles have made such consistent focus difficult.

"Successful reforms balance standardization in the low-performing schools matched by support for innovation in schools that demonstrate achievement," said Warren Simmons, director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

This marks the second year NAEP test results were available from a sample of individual urban school districts. Usually, NAEP is only reported as a statewide result, and historically only about 80 percent of states participated. This year was the first that all 50 states and the District of Columbia were required to administer the NAEP.

NAEP is considered one of the more difficult state tests required under No Child Left Behind.

Last year, 2002 NAEP reading results were broken out for grades 4 and 8 in six urban districts: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Washington. This year both reading and math results were reported and the number of districts rose to 10 with the addition of Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cleveland and San Diego.

On the 2003 test, Chicago's performance was mixed. In reading, Chicago 8th-graders matched the urban average, with 59 percent of its 8th-graders performing at the basic level. Yet, in math, Chicago 8th-graders ranked in the bottom half of the 10 districts, with 42 percent at a basic level compared with the urban average of 51 percent.

Fourth-grade scores here were below the urban averages in both categories. In reading, 40 percent of Chicago 4th-graders were at the basic level compared with 48 percent for the urban average. In math, 50 percent of Chicago 4th-graders scored at basic levels compared with 63 percent for the urban average.

Though disappointing, the test was an improvement for Chicago 4th-graders, whose reading scores increased from 2002, along with their peers in four other districts in the urban assessment. Reading scores for Chicago 8th-graders, however, dropped. This was the first year math scores were provided for the districts, so two-year comparisons were not possible.

"We know we have a lot of work to do," said Barbara Eason-Watkins, chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools.

She said she was pleased to see 4th-grade reading scores rise, while she stressed that Chicago is in only the first year of an initiative to beef up math education, so the test results would not yet reflect that effort.

Eason-Watkins and other educators also cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the NAEP data because only a small sample of each district's students take the test. Some educators question whether the samples were selected in the same way from each district as well.

Despite Chicago's overall lackluster performance on the NAEP, the system appears to be doing a good job of reducing the achievement gap between white and Hispanic students, who now make up a third of the city's student body. Chicago had the smallest reading achievement gap of all the urban districts for 8th-grade Hispanic students.

Its success with black students, who still make up the majority of the public school population, continues to lag.

The Council of Great City Schools, an organization representing Chicago and more than 60 of the nation's largest systems, lobbied for the urban analysis. The group wanted districts with similar challenges, such as large numbers of poor students or students who don't speak English, to have information they could share and compare.

A Great City commission plans to study the NAEP results and highlight practices in successful districts so they can be replicated.

"Cities are capable of outpacing state and national trends," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools.

For example, Charlotte is above the national average on most indicators analyzed, though it still had achievement gaps.

Charlotte, whose students span city and suburban boundaries, has fewer poor students than some districts in the sample, which educators said gives it an advantage. Still, it also stood out as a district with the highest percentage of students performing above the basic level, achieving proficiency--the level required in most districts to meet the new federal achievement goals.

 

For the first time, the National Assessment of Educational Progress test reported results for 10 major urban school districts across the country. In most cases, Chicago Public Schools ranked below the urban average.

Results are based on a representative sample of students tested at each grade level. Percentages represent the portion of students who performed at or above the basic level.*

Source: 2003 Trial Urban District Reading Assessment and 2003 Trial Urban District Mathematics Assessment using the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

 

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Study Finds Special Ed Disparities; Race, Income Affect Treatment of Students 

Linda Perlstein, Washington Post Staff Writer, December 18, 2003

African American and Hispanic students in special education were far more likely than white and Asian students in recent years to be educated in special classrooms instead of integrated into the general population, according to a study of special education in Montgomery County Public Schools.

The study also found that students who live in poverty were almost 21/2 times more likely than higher-income students to be labeled emotionally disturbed, and African Americans were almost three times more likely than whites to be identified as mentally retarded, a ratio that lowers only slightly when controlling for income.

The report was prepared by Margaret J. McLaughlin and Sandra Embler of the University of Maryland School of Education under the auspices of the county's Continuous Improvement Team. The Board of Education had directed the team to come up with a set of indicators for measuring the status of special education in the county. The report was completed in the summer but presented to the board last week as part of an update on special education services.

"Most of it was anticipated, but to get anything done you have to have a baseline for improvement," said Ricki Sabia, a co-chairman of the Continuous Improvement Team. "The whole point of the report was to bring up these issues, and the next step is to drill down what to do about it."

The research, conducted from 2000 to 2002, found that black and Hispanic special education students were more likely than other disabled students to be taught in segregated settings instead of regular classrooms. State guidelines require the county to increase the number of special education students integrated into regular classrooms.

Black students received an average of 16.8 hours of special education services in total weekly compared with 14.8 for Hispanics and 12.4 hours for whites. Low-income students received 16.3 hours weekly, compared with 12 hours for the rest of the population.

For students with and without disabilities, a gap in academic performance exists by race and by income. Brian Bartels, Montgomery County's director of special education, said this correlation may partially explain why black, Hispanic and low-income disabled students are receiving more intensive services in less integrated environments, not just in Montgomery County but elsewhere in the state as well.

Educators may recommend more intensive services -- not necessarily in separate settings -- because of the greater instructional needs of students with lower achievement levels, Bartels said.

Attendance rates for special education students were, depending on school level, from 1 percentage point to 3 percentage points lower than rates for students in regular programs. Disparity in absences was greatest in high schools. Students with emotional disabilities and low-income students were most likely to have many absences.

Bartels said depression and behavioral problems may be keeping some emotionally disturbed students home, though he also said the attendance rate may have been skewed by a small number of students with very large numbers of absences.

Regardless of income, Asian American students were less likely than those in any other racial or ethnic group to receive special education services. They were, however, more likely to receive assistance in speech and language.

Thirteen percent of students with disabilities received no scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills. The CTBS is not used to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but test participation is a concern because the law requires that 95 percent of students in any group, including special education, take standardized tests.

Of the students who took the test, 70 percent received extra time to complete it, and more than 50 percent of sixth-graders and 25 percent of second-graders used a calculator -- both permitted accommodations.

In surveys, special education teachers said parents do not support them in discipline or instruction or recognize their accomplishments, while parents and special education teachers felt that teachers in regular classrooms have low expectations for disabled students.

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No Child Left Behind act must change, officials say 

DIANE R. STEPP, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff, December 18, 2003

Cherokee school officials are sounding off in the state Capitol and in Washington, lobbying for change in the federal approach to grading whether schools are doing a good job of educating students.

In a strongly worded resolution sent to state legislators and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Cherokee board members urged changes in the No Child Left Behind act to address a list of "serious concerns."

All four Cherokee high schools, all but one middle school and several elementary schools were on the state's "needs improvement" list this year, which was compiled based on federal guidelines. They landed there largely because too few students among certain subgroups took the state curriculum test last spring.

"By arbitrarily and unilaterally creating AYP [adequate yearly progress] formulas, the federal [and state] government has damaged the credibility, reputation and morale of some very good and, in some cases, excellent schools," board members said.

Suggested changes include not assigning equal weight to all of the progress calculations.

Cherokee school officials also want to see that students who do not speak English and have been in the United States for less than 12 months take an alternate assessment.

The unanimously adopted resolution also says that federal funding provided to implement the requirements of the federal education standards "is insufficient to meet realistic goals for all students."

Walton principal lauds football team

Kudos for Cherokee High varsity football team members came from Walton High School principal Tom Higgins.

Following Cherokee's win over the undefeated team from Cobb County in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs last month, Higgins wrote Cherokee principal Bill Sebring, saying Cherokee deserved the victory.

"Your team played almost flawlessly and deserved the victory," Higgins wrote. "The football team represented your school and community extremely well in sportsmanship."

Student art to be shown at airport

Beginning this month, internationally arriving and departing passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will see the artwork of 20 Cherokee High School students displayed in Concourse E. The works will remain on display throughout the year. Delta Airlines and ASA/Delta Connection honored the student artists with a lunch reception, tour of operations and a demonstration flight.

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2003 SCHOOL REPORT CARD. Pupils buck trend at least in 1 place

By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune staff reporter, December 19, 2003

With their backpacks and coats scattered along a hallway at Independence Elementary School, a crowd of 5th graders waited for their class to start. It was 8:15 a.m., 45 minutes before school would officially begin, but they were ready for math club.

The door swung open, and the pupils, overwhelmingly black and Latino, rushed inside. "Faster, people, faster," shouted 10-year-old Rebekah Qualls as 14 classmates scrambled to the carpet in front of the chalkboard for extra practice calculating perimeter, area and volume.

Later, after the morning bell rang and the rest of the pupils arrived, the class practiced reading skills as their teacher, Vickie Witt, met in small groups with pupils struggling to understand how to summarize a story. This individual attention, practiced schoolwide, is part of what's behind the school's rising test scores and the relatively small achievement gap between minority students and their white peers, educators say.

"Think about it," said Witt, who has a class of 20 pupils. "I know what my kids don't get ... I am trying to meet their individual needs."

The Bolingbrook school, which currently has about 670 pupils, is 40 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic. It stands apart from schools across the nation where sizable, decades-old test score gaps remain between African-American and Latino students, and their white counterparts, even in racially integrated schools. Nationwide, black 4th graders scored 31 points lower than white pupils on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

For the first time this year, the performance of racial and ethnic minorities, poor and special education students,groups arguably long overlooked, have consequences. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that these subgroups, in addition to the schoolwide population, meet certain goals. If even one subgroup fails to meet the standards, the school is considered academically troubled.

Although some schools' numbers are in dispute, the Tribune has verified that at Independence, 75 percent of white pupils met standards in reading, compared with 60 percent of African-Americans and 57 percent of Latinos in 2003 state tests taken in the spring. The gap was smaller for math scores, with 87 percent of white pupils reaching the goal compared with 75 percent of blacks and 86 percent of Latinos. Overall scores have steadily increased during the last few years, and the gap has narrowed.

While a difference still exists, it is one of the smallest among the state's racially integrated schools. What's more, it is considerably lower than at peer schools with similar low-income and racially diverse populations, such as Dewey Elementary in Evanston, where 88 percent of white pupils and 48 percent of black pupils met reading standards. At Irving Elementary in Oak Park, 94 percent of white pupils passed the state math test compared with 62 percent of black pupils.

"I would love for it to not make a difference of black versus white. That is possible; it is just a lot of work," said Independence Principal Faith Dahlquist. "We don't set the kids aside and say the African-American students are going to get this or that. But we do try to look at who is struggling and what that child needs."

Teachers at Independence give pupils different books based on their reading levels. Older pupils work with 1st graders from bilingual families. Teachers come in early to tutor students and stay after the final bell rings, without pay.

Parents and teachers list other reasons for the success: academic goals set by students, extraordinary staff dedication, strong parental involvement and curriculum changes based on test-score data.

They do it all while spending $6,881 for each pupil, lower than the $8,181 average expenditure per student statewide.

Dahlquist can't remember the last time the school bought new desks or furniture. Around 1996, the janitor obtained stacks of library chairs that a Chicago school was tossing out. To make the school look more inviting, Dahlquist personally removed a chain-link fence surrounding the school parking lot.

Educators have long debated reasons for the achievement gap. Some say there are lower expectations for minorities and negative peer influences. At least part of the chasm may be linked to family educational background and income level, the most reliable predictor of test scores.

At Independence, about 26 percent of the pupils are low-income, and of that group, slightly more than half are African-American, 28 percent are Latino and 17 percent are white. But 60 percent of the low-income pupils met reading standards and 79 percent passed the math test.

Ronald Ferguson, a Harvard University economist who studies the achievement gap, said differences in socioeconomic status is part of the problem, but the gap remains even among students with similar family income levels. He commended Independence's focus on helping students one-on-one.

Dahlquist, nicknamed "Data Queen" by her staff, also attributes the improvements to constant analysis of standardized test scores, reading assessments and other evaluations. "We try to base all of our decisions not on `we think this is happening,' but on data," she said.

In 2002, when the data showed that only 41 percent of 3rd graders passed the state writing test, teachers put extra emphasis on writing. This year, 74 percent passed the test, and a recent visitor to the school found a 3rd-grade classroom practicing expository essays.

Teacher Jeri Duran reminded pupils to indent paragraphs. "That is one of the things they'll mark you down for on the ISAT writing," she said as they wrote an essay on the perks of living in the White House.

Sometimes, the data may land a pupil on a school "watch list" of those scoring lower than expected on a district test or reading evaluation. The struggling kids then get tutored before or after school, meet with a reading specialist during the day, or get paired with a peer tutor.

Olah Mehmood's 3rd-grade daughter, Sarah, landed on the list at the beginning of last year. "She was in the warning and I was terrified," Mehmood said. But a few months later, the 9-year-old was reading at the top of her class. "I was so amazed that I went to take a picture," her mother said, crediting the extra tutoring after school.

First-grade teacher Maggi Jenkins splits her class into groups and then listens to each pupil read during regular class time. The groups change weekly depending on student progress, a challenge with 27 students in her class.

On a recent day, four pupils took turns reading to her while, in other parts of the room, pupils used PowerPoint to read words on a computer and huddled in pairs to read with each other. Her pupils range from Level 3, reading books with five words on a page, to Level 18, reading complex stories with plot, multiple characters and more than 20 words per page.

Indeed, at a mid-September conference of 160 teachers from about 30 districts, the instructor asked which teachers knew their students' reading level. Only the two Independence teachers raised their hands.

"The rest of the teachers were like, it's only September," Witt said. "We were surprised we were the only ones."

Pupils also know their reading and writing levels. Jenna Cawthon, a 5th grader, pointed to a chart in her folder that shows she is writing at a Level 4--"you understand stuff but you don't get it that well," she said--but her goal is to reach a Level 5 or 6 by the end of the year.

Dahlquist said having pupils chart their own progress gives them a sense of empowerment and investment in their education. Last year, she met with every 3rd grader as they explained their goals.

She also celebrates the pupils' achievements. She has done cartwheels for a 1st-grade class that met its reading goal, and dyed her hair purple for another.

Last week, after the former Valley View school district superintendent heard about the school's progress, he sent a bouquet of flowers and balloons.

"Congratulations on your successes!" he wrote on the attached card. "You know that this is what it's about."

 

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Meaningful conclusions put in doubt; Errors fill state testing data  

By Stephanie Banchero and Darnell Little, Tribune staff reporters, December 19, 2003

The state testing data released Friday were supposed to permit the most sophisticated and detailed assessment ever of the Illinois public education system.

Newly revamped as a result of federal reforms, the state's annual report card is designed to ferret out schools whose high average test scores might hide the fact that certain groups of students--such as low-income, disabled or minority children--are struggling.

It is also supposed to show whether schools tested all of their pupils--or tried to boost scores by telling low achievers to stay home on exam day.

But the data are so riddled with errors--at least 34,261 mistakes involving about 75 percent of Illinois schools--that it is virtually impossible to draw the meaningful conclusions that educators had hoped for and that the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires, according to a Tribune analysis.

State officials acknowledge they may have mistakenly placed 368 schools on a federal failure list because of data mistakes. The roster includes such perennial all-stars as Northside College Prep High School in Chicago, Butler Junior High School in Oak Brook and Carleton Washburne Elementary in Winnetka.

Most of the errors came from misidentifying students' ethnic background, income level, special education status or English language skills. But schools also made mistakes in calculating enrollment and the percent of teachers considered qualified.

By far, the greatest number of errors came from the misidentification of low-income students. About 9 percent of the state's 234,696 low-income test-takers were not identified as such on test booklets, making it impossible to accurately calculate the academic performance of low-income students across Illinois.

State officials decided last week to let 458 schools--about 12 percent of state schools--submit corrections to the data. But it will take until February to recalculate the statistics, and even then the final state report card will include thousands of mistakes from the remaining schools, the Tribune found.

"I think people will legitimately question the validity of the state testing system and the validity of the No Child Left Behind Law because of all these errors," said Robert Rice, principal of North Ridge Middle School in Danville, which was erroneously tagged by the state as a failing school because of a data error. "How can we ask kids to meet high standards on one hand, and then on the other hand release a report card that is so messed up?"

State Superintendent of Education Robert Schiller acknowledged there are problems with the current report card but said it would cost the state at least $400,000 to correct every error and reissue it.

Schiller points out that much of the information is reliable, including schools' overall pass rates in reading and math, and how well students performed at each grade level. He also contends that the picture of how well various subgroups did on the tests won't change much once the fixes are made.

"At the end of the day, I don't think there will be much variance," he said.

But Lawrence Aleamoni, a statistician who advises Arizona on its student-testing program, disagrees.

"To make a claim like that ... is not anchored in any data, any statistics, any probability," said Aleamoni, a professor at the University of Arizona.

Aleamoni also warned that the mistake-ridden report cards could have significant consequences.

"Schools are being held accountable for the results, and they are taking actions because of the results, and these results may very well be flawed," he said.

When it was signed into law last year, the No Child Left Behind Act was praised by Democrats and Republicans alike as a way to hold schools accountable for the performance of all children, not just a majority of students.

For decades, schools were judged by their overall scores, limiting failure primarily to poor and urban campuses. But the federal reform requires states to separately track minority, low-income, limited-English proficient and special education students, demanding that each subgroup within a school meet the state achievement goals.

If even one subgroup lags, the school is considered academically troubled. Continued failure can result in state sanctions. In the case of low-income schools, federal sanctions, as serious as closing, can be invoked. The law also insists that schools make sure that 95 percent of the student body and of each subgroup takes an exam.

But if students are misidentified on test booklets, it is impossible to track how subgroups are performing or if the schools met test participation standards for those groups.

Most problems in Illinois were detected while tallying the student test participation rates.

For example, the state data show that Butler Junior High School in Oak Brook tested 100 percent of its 8th graders. But the data also allege that the school tested only 93 percent of its white 8th graders--an obvious inconsistency.

Such problems can arise if a school does not ensure students are identified properly. In this case, the data indicate that only 38 of Butler's 41 white students marked themselves as white on their test booklets. So it appeared to the state that three white children were not tested, driving down the school's participation rate for that group.

Such mistakes are compounded when students from a particular subgroup are not identified properly, their test scores will not be counted when calculating how well that subgroup scored on the tests.

Illinois' troubles with data collection are not unique. From Pennsylvania to Utah, state and local officials have been overwhelmed with mountains of required statistics. Local schools have submitted error-ridden data, and states have had difficulty crunching the numbers.

Kathy Christie, vice president of the Education Commission of the States, said no one knows for certain how many mistakes have been made nationwide or how many schools may have been tagged erroneously as failures. But she said schools are scrambling to fix the problems. "People read about the act, they heard about the reporting aspects of the act, but until it came back to smack them in the face, the seriousness of it didn't sink in," said Christie, whose group tracks whether states comply with No Child Left Behind.

Officials with the Illinois State Board of Education knew last year that they had a data collection problem, but were unsure of its breadth. A Tribune analysis of last year's data found that 3,207 schools made nearly 58,000 reporting errors.

Schiller said he warned schools to be more vigilant this year and even offered training courses to help them understand the complicated new system. He also gave local officials 45 days in the fall to look over their data and make changes.

"No matter how much training you do, it comes down to the attention to detail and whether people are willing to put in the time to make sure the information is correct," he said. "Obviously, many schools fell short in this regard."

But local schools point the finger at the state, saying the data they received were not easily readable and did not show whether a school ran afoul of the law. Principals had to know the specifics of the law and make their own calculations.

Moreover, they point out that the state could have detected widespread mistakes by checking the data before sending it.

"I think the bottom line is that we can all do a better job next year," said Hank Bangser, superintendent of New Trier High School District 203, which landed on the failure list because of a data mistake. "I know we will make a more concerted effort on our end."

The problems with collecting and analyzing data have fueled the controversy surrounding No Child Left Behind, which has come under fire from educators who contend the law is inadequately funded and from community activists who say schools are inventing ingenious ways to skirt key provisions.

"I take it as a badge of honor that I am on the list because it shows how bogus, ridiculous, stupid, crazy this law is," said James Lalley, principal of Northside College Prep. "How can anyone take this law seriously when it is flawed in so many ways? I think the trouble collecting this data illustrates this point perfectly."

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Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777