Mountain View Voice

News - November 14, 2008

LEFT BEHIND: Schools caught in testing bind

No Child Left Behind dooms many students to failing status

by Casey Weiss

Editor's Note: Six years ago Congress enacted No Child Left Behind, which sets ever-increasing standards for public school students. Today, those standards are quickly becoming unrealistic, administrators say, and local schools are in danger of falling short. This is the first in a three-part series on the legislation's effects on local school districts.

After administrators in the Mountain View Whisman School District spent last year overhauling their math programs, students scored higher than ever before on standardized tests in the subject.

But the news was not so good in "English language arts," the other subject scrupulously monitored under federal No Child Left Behind legislation. So many subgroups of the district's students — non-English-speakers, disabled students and others — did poorly in English that Mountain View Whisman found its schools among the 2,241 in the state unable to meet the law's standards.

Those 2,241 schools represent about 37 percent of the 6,020 California schools participating in the No Child Left Behind program, and administrators say that percentage is sure to go up.

NCLB, as it's known among educators, sets universal goals for school districts nationwide, then determines whether those goals are being met through yearly batteries of tests (called STAR tests in California). But it doesn't stop there: The goals are an upwardly moving target, jumping 10.5 percentage points in the recent school year alone. That rate is far too steep, educators say, when students have been expected to improve scores by 2 to 3 percentage points in previous years.

"In a year or so, no one is going to care, because no one is going to meet the expectations," said Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent in the elementary school district. "NCLB targets become less realistic and useful as they continue to increase at such a rate."

In sweeping legislation proposed by President George W. Bush, Congress first enacted NCLB in 2002 to make schools and teachers accountable for improving student performance, with the goal of having all students become "proficient" or better in math and language arts by 2014. A ranking system called "Academic Yearly Progress," or AYP, ranks students as "basic," "proficient" or "advanced," partially depending on how they perform on the yearly California Standards Tests.

Each state outlines its own measurement goals, and officials in California decided to start small. They expected each subgroup to increase its performance by only a couple percentage points every year at first. Now, to make up for lost time, the standards are jumping dramatically — increasing 11 percent each year until 2014 — and many local administrators say the new benchmarks are impossible for every subgroup at every school to meet.

Under NCLB rules, students are categorized into subgroups depending on their ethnicity, socio-economic background, language proficiency and any learning disabilities they may have. English language learners and Latinos, in both Mountain View school districts and the state, fall significantly behind their Asian and white counterparts in math and English testing.

Close call for MVLA

For the first time, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District almost fell short of meeting these standards in each subgroup, with socio-economically disadvantaged students missing the benchmark of 33.4 percent by one-tenth of one point.

High school district administrators said this difference "amounts to one or two students," and they are checking student demographics to make sure they account for the correct number of disadvantaged students in the district. After this, they said, they will probably just make the cut.

But the district may not be as lucky next year, when 44 percent of all students must be proficient or above in both subjects.

"It is like high jumping at five feet, missing twice, and then going to six feet," Superintendent Barry Groves said of the legislation.

Both districts have schools which receive Title I funding, which is designated for schools with a relatively large percentage of low-income students. In exchange for the funding, they must meet the federal benchmarks. (Districts which forgo Title I funding do not need to participate in all of the NCLB programs.)

Playing catch-up

In the 2002-03 academic year, 16 percent of middle and elementary school students were expected to be proficient in math, and 13.6 percent were expected to be proficient in English language arts. In 2007-08, 37 percent of California elementary and middle school students were expected to be proficient in math and 35.2 percent in English arts. Next year, the benchmarks will jump to 47.5 percent in math and 46 percent in English. The numbers are similar for high school districts.

A district is put on probation after its first year of not meeting these targets. If it falls behind two years in a row, it is designated a "Program Improvement" school, and has two years to catch up. Local administrators predict all California schools will become Program Improvement schools by 2014.

"By this time, playing the catch-up game is going to be difficult," said Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services in the high school district.

If a school does not make the Academic Yearly Progress expectations after two years, punishments begin to increase, with pressure on both the district and the school.

Program Improvement schools and their districts may have to extend the academic year, while also offering students the choice of changing schools or attending supplemental programs. At that point, the school begins concentrating on replacing teachers and developing its staff.

After schools have been labeled Program Improvement schools for five years, punishments are enacted, and "after that there is no year six, and the schools just collect," said Pam Slater, spokesperson for the California Department of Education.

The elementary school district's Lairon, in an interview earlier this year, wondered how such severe measures will improve education.

"If everyone becomes Program Improvement, what is the point?"

E-mail Casey Weiss at cweiss@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Douglas Habersaat, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 13, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Six years ago Congress enacted No Child Left Behind, which sets ever-increasing standards for public school students. Today, those standards are quickly becoming unrealistic, administrators say, and Mountain View schools are in danger of falling short.
In 1953, William Shockley left Bell Labs in a disagreement over the handling of the invention of the transistor. After returning to California Institute of Technology for a short while, Shockley moved to Mountain View, California in 1956, and founded Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Unlike many other researchers who used germanium as the semiconductor material, Shockley believed that silicon was the better material for making transistors. Shockley intended to replace the current transistor with a new three-element design (today known as the Shockley diode), but the design was considerably more difficult to build than the "simple" transistor. In 1957, Shockley decided to end research on the silicon transistor. As a result, eight engineers left the company to form Fairchild Semiconductor. Two of the original employees of Fairchild Semiconductor, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, would go on to found Intel. It was in Silicon Valley that the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, the microcomputer, among other key technologies, were developed.
Mountain View is the home of Google Inc., who also provides free internet service to any Mountain View resident who has a computer with a WiFi adapter. You can learn a lot about nearly any subject from the internet, and ISP service is free.
That's right folks, Silicon Valley started right here. Mountain View is not some backwoods city. There is no excuse for ignorance. The solution is simple. Turn of the TV, put away the video games and read a book! OK school administrators?
Also, students who are falling behind, quit watching television and go read a book.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 14, 2008 at 8:24 am

It always seems like these school administrators are arguing for lowering the requirements to graduate from each grade level.

What good or purpose could that possibly serve?

If everyone is allowed to graduate on their terms, then our economy will really be doomed!


Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 14, 2008 at 12:21 pm

NO, NO, NO. As usual, the Voice gets it all wrong. No Child Left Behind did not create ever-increasing standards. Rather, MV schools have steadily been falling behind the standards and creating an ever-increasing gap that they will never be able to correct at the rate they are going under the current leadership. The standards and benchmarks of No Child Left Behind are nothing more than those required of each grade level if we can ever expect children to graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in life (at the very minimum, the skills required to know what a good mortgage is and whether or not they can truly afford one).

Lastly, I find it ironic that these schools are threatened to fall under the category of Program Improvement schools, despite the superintendant's adoption of his flawed Continious Improvement strategy.


Posted by reader, a resident of Monta Loma
on Nov 14, 2008 at 12:35 pm

ned, go look it up-yes the Bush-created NCLB act does increase its standards almost exponentially to the point of ridiculous expectations-when the act was originally created there was supposed to be a second program running concurrently that would provide extra support to help reach these extremely high expectations-this program was conveniently dropped when NCLB was implemented. Its still no excuse, but I think the bigger problem with the district is the ever revolving principal problem!! No leader, no progress....


Posted by MVLA is garbage, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 15, 2008 at 8:31 am

It's don't see how it's the NCLB fault for raising ridiculously low standards. It's up to MVLA to stop slacking and start teaching. I have had enough with lazy hippie teachers who have continue to fail our youth. California has no excuse for depriving our childrens education.


Posted by NCLB is a Joke...on us!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2008 at 12:46 pm

It's funny how the administration that advocated NCLB failed to fund it! The Bush administration sang the praises of NCLB, but when the budget came where did the funds go? This program was doomed from the begining, it was not meant to succeed. Shame on all US citizens for allowing the government to spend $10 billion dollars a MONTH on war but not invest a fraction of that in OUR children, the future of this great country. This is the real problem people, we are largest debtor nation in the world now due to the disgusting, gluttonous spending that has occurred over the last 20 years.


Posted by NCLB is a Joke...on us!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2008 at 12:46 pm

It's funny how the administration that advocated NCLB failed to fund it! The Bush administration sang the praises of NCLB, but when the budget came where did the funds go? This program was doomed from the begining, it was not meant to succeed. Shame on all US citizens for allowing the government to spend $10 billion dollars a MONTH on war but not invest a fraction of that in OUR children, the future of this great country. This is the real problem people, we are largest debtor nation in the world now due to the disgusting, gluttonous spending that has occurred over the last 20 years.


Posted by Smooth Operator, a resident of Castro City
on Nov 16, 2008 at 1:57 am

This is hilarious, the article notes:

"the standards are jumping dramatically — increasing 11 percent each year until 2014 — and many local administrators say the new benchmarks are impossible for every subgroup at every school to meet."

But if we did not increase the school ((budget** by 11% a year, the school administrators would yell bloody murder.


Posted by Jim Thurber, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2008 at 8:05 am

I teach Math at Egan Jr High in Los Altos. Personally I've got no problem with standards or No Child Left Behind. Math has always been a "standard based" form of learning and NCLB is an attempt to bring our schools in line with those of other countries.

But . . . . . those countries (China and India come to mind) are basing their test results on the top 20 percent of their students -- not the 100 percent that the United States reports on. If we tested only the top 20 percent of our students our results would skyrocket.

If the politicians would look at their source data, NCLB would have been properly written and implemented.


Posted by Sam, a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Who could forget the hippie teacher that would take off her shoes in class stink up the classroom, was always late to class cuz she was at 7-11 getting coffee. These kids would be waiting outside for her 15 minutes after class should have started . MVWSD needs a wake up call.


Posted by Enough!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Reader: NCLB doesn't try to increase standards for graduating from high school. It tells schools that have been failing generations of students to improve on a yearly basis. Since in many instances they are doing the complete opposite, it may very well seem like ever-increasing standards ae being created. As Ned suggests, what is really happening is an ever-increasing achievement gap is being created. My only guess for what the system really needs is radical change, a complete paradigm shift, something that these dinosaur administrators would never be able to handle.


Posted by reader, a resident of Monta Loma
on Nov 16, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Enough- where did I mention High School? The achievement gap has a lot more to do with our English Language Learners and the difficulties they face in testing and far less to do with poor teaching. What we don't need is to have these accountability standards control so much that we stop giving our students Science, Social Studies, Art, Music and Physical Education. The State needs to be given more local control over this unique population. One size does not fit all, nor do we want it to.


Posted by Happy parent of former public school students, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 17, 2008 at 9:55 am

Again, our decision to place our children at St. Joseph's Mountain View when Slater was closed is validated. Not only does St. Joseph's meet or beat all standards, we do it with consistantly tighter budgets. St. Joseph's is a K-8 school, so our girls have been able to benefit from an earlier experience with Jr. High resources such as a full science lab, and they have also been able to transition to Jr. High without the trauma of entering a new school environment.

And no, we are not wealthy nor are many of the families there. But we make choices, and have chosen to place our kids' futures ahead of non-essentials. It can be done!


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