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October 14, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, October 14, 2005

Another demerit for 'No Child' act Another demerit for 'No Child' act (October 14, 2005)

Mountain View-Whisman's Castro Elementary, the Escuela Avenue school that serves about 340 students in the heart of the city's Latino community, is one step closer to getting a good-sized demerit from the Bush administration.

The reason: the stringent requirements of the President's No Child Left Behind program is continuing to trip up Castro, which has 80 percent English language learners. For the second year in a row, Castro has been labeled a "program improvement" school, which means it must adopt a laundry list of actions designed to fix the inability of many Castro students to master English.

Under the strict "No Child" criteria -- which do make some allowances for slower students -- students who cannot read or speak English, and who come from a home where no English is spoken, are expected to improve their test scores every year.

Overall, Castro did meet some No Child criteria, and math scores also improved, but in language arts, school-wide results from tests given in English showed that only 14.7 percent of students were proficient, nearly 10 percent short of the 24.4 percent target. Even more troubling was the huge gap between native English speakers, who as a group were 80 percent proficient, and English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, who were only 6.3 percent and 6.4 percent proficient, respectively.

At a recent meeting with Castro parents, Maurice Ghysels, the new superintendent at Mountain View-Whisman, did his best to put a positive spin on remedies the school has adopted to tackle the problem. But with the inexorable improvements built into every No Child measurement for the next nine years, even the best remedial actions can fall short when so many students are woefully ill-equipped to read or write English.

As this page has said before, the issue is not whether Castro students are proficient in their native language, but in what to them is a foreign language -- English. And in a school where many children arrive from homes that do not speak English, it is very difficult to teach a new language in time for students to meet No Child criteria. This seems to be particularly true at Castro, although the district recently learned that Theuerkauf Elementary students did improve their overall score, after falling back last year.

In schools populated with native English speakers, the No Child criteria set reasonable expectations, achievable in many cases. But when the same standards are applied to schools in areas where English is not the first language, and areas that are economically disadvantaged, the likelihood of success plummets. The "one size fits all" approach does not fit the diverse school culture prevalent in Mountain View, or, for that matter, in similar districts in the county, state and nation. We hope this problem will get some attention soon at the highest level of the federal government.

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