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Article of Interest - No Child Left Behind

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Bridges4Kids LogoReport Cards Target Specific Groups of Students
by Judy Putnam, Lansing State Journal, November 4, 2004
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High school report cards due out today will focus attention on the academic progress of minorities, children with disabilities and other subgroups of students that some say are often overlooked.

Schools will be graded on an A, B, C, D-alert or unaccredited basis under the state's Education YES! program. At the same time, parents will find out whether their children's schools made Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Concentrating students at the high school -- as opposed to elementary and middle school -- level means there's more likely to be a critical mass of 30 members of a subgroup in the same grade needed to measure adequate progress. Fewer than 30 doesn't count.

The subgroup requirements under No Child Left Behind serve to highlight the progress of students who some believe fell through the cracks in the past.

"By and large, this is good for Michigan's children,'' said state Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Hughes. "There's a lot of attention being paid to subgroups. They are very, very important.''

Others argue the subgroups could serve to penalize schools with a more diverse student population and even stigmatize students.

The issue of subgroups will be brought into even sharper focus within the next several weeks, when local school district AYP status reports are released for the first time.

The Michigan Department of Education Wednesday decided to delay the district reports, originally set for release today, to give school officials a chance to review them and appeal any mistakes.

To make AYP at a district level, two out of three levels of students - elementary, middle and high school - must make adequate progress when added together.

Under No Child Left Behind, 95 percent of students in the grade being tested must take the test as well as 95 percent of students in any subgroup.

The nine subgroups are: white; African American; Hispanic; multiracial; American Indian or Alaska native; Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; students with disabilities; limited English proficient; and economically disadvantaged.

This year 33 percent of students in all groups must meet or exceed state standards in math and 42 percent in reading on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests. In addition, the school must report at least an 80 percent graduation rate.

Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, said there's too little room for extenuating circumstances in the measurements.

If just two students in a subgroup of 30 refuse to take a test, that means an entire school fails to make progress because 95 percent of students overall and 95 percent of each subgroup must be assessed.

"If the learning piece of this is progressing in the right direction, why should they be punished if they didn't meet 95 percent (participation) of a subgroup?'' Ballard said.

Deborah Canja, CEO of Bridges4Kids, a nonprofit organization that refers parents of children with disabilities to services, said that although that is a small margin, measuring subgroups is important.

"We don't pay attention to what we don't count. If we don't have some way of measuring how we are doing, we won't pay attention to those students. They are below the radar,'' Canja said.

Some school officials said they're worried that subgroups, such as special education students, will be blamed for tarnishing an entire school.

"All of a sudden the blame for not making AYP is put on the shoulders of a certain subgroup,'' said Laura Wotruba, spokeswoman for the Middle Cities Education Association, representing mid-size urban districts.

Subgroup scores will likely be painful for schools and communities, but necessary, said Jim Sandy, executive director of Michigan Business Leaders for Education Excellence. He said schools have to face up to the fact that there are achievement gaps among groups of students.

"You can't cure a problem unless you identify it,'' he said.

Karen Schulz, spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association teachers union, said schools with more diverse populations have more hurdles to jump.

"Our folks will be studying the data extensively,'' she said. "There have been some early indications that schools with greater diversity struggle to make AYP more than schools with fewer subgroups.''

Schools receiving Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students must offer transportation to schools with better test scores if they don't make AYP for two years. After three years, free tutoring must be offered.

School grades are affected by AYP status, too. An otherwise "A" school, based on test scores and 11 other factors, is bumped down to a "B" if it doesn't make AYP.

The state education department last month notified 81 high schools that they had not made AYP for at least two years in a row.

A few schools on the list acknowledge that they didn't make AYP but also didn't spend Title 1 dollars at the high school level so they won't have to implement school choice. Another on the list, Jenison High School, had its special education scores recalculated after the state granted more leeway in the number of students it could count as passing on an alternative test.

    

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