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Schools miss federal progress target

Mike Hagy/Vail Daily
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Local kids are making progress on their state achievement tests, but not enough to suit the feds.

The Colorado Department of Education this week released results marking the progress of public schools as they try to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

One of those requirements is something called “adequate yearly progress.” In Colorado, that progress is measured by how many of a district’s kids score at least “partially proficient” on the state standardized tests, called the Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP.

Those tests measure kids’ skills in reading, math, and science. “Partially proficient” is the lowest passing grade, following “proficient” and “advanced.” Federal law requires that all students hit at least the “partially proficient” level by 2014.

That’s the yardstick, but it’s the fine grades of measurement where districts have trouble meeting the law’s requirements. The measurements used by the feds don’t allow schools to average out a school’s performance on tests. Every student is measured ” hence, the No Child Left Behind Label.

Students are put into groups based on ethnicity, learning disabilities or whether they’re learning English. Those categories can be microscopically small, and the more students a school district has, the more small groups it can have.

Eagle County, for instance, had 101 such groups for the 2005 ” ’06 school year. The much-smaller Ouray School District had 33.

If any of those groups ” sometimes just one or two kids ” doesn’t hit its performance targets on state tests, the entire school, or the entire district, can miss its federal targets.

The Eagle County schools that didn’t hit their federal benchmarks missed them due to the test performance of students who are learning English and those with learning disabilities.

The language hurdle can be a big one. The state tests are given in English, which means a third grader who’s come straight from another country is, almost by definition, going to do poorly.

The most recent progress report is better than the last. In the 2004-05 school year, the district hit its goals on state tests with 88 of 99 groups, or 89 percent. For 2005-06, the district hit its goals for 96 of 101 groups, or 95 percent. It still missed its federal targets.

The Steamboat Springs School District also missed its federal targets despite 78 of the district’s 79 measured groups performing up to standards.

Some of the Eagle County district’s 2005-06 improvement came from Eagle Valley High School, which hit all its targets last school year.

“We’re extremely pleased,” Eagle Valley High School Principal Mark Strakbein said. “The biggest high school in the state that made it was Lewis-Palmer (near Colorado Springs) and they’re not much bigger than us.”

This is the third year the local school district hasn’t hit its goals. But what does that mean?

Individual schools that don’t hit their targets and take money from the federal “Title I” program ” which puts money toward reading and math programs for poor students ” can be forced to start “school improvement” plans.

At Avon Elementary School, that means a team from the state came into the school and reviewed teaching methods and programs. The offshoot of that review was a grant for teacher training.

At the district level, there aren’t a lot of consequences.

Alyssa Pearson of the Colorado Department of Education said a district that doesn’t hit its federal targets for two years in a row must put 10 percent of its “Title I” money into teacher training.

“As time goes on, what has to be done with that money becomes more directed,” Pearson said.

But how realistic is it to expect all public school kids to be at least “partially proficient”?

“It’s admirable that President Bush wanted 100 percent of kids hitting their growth targets,” Eagle County School District Superintendent John Brendza said. “The reality is with kids who are second-language learners or have special-education disabilities, public education will never have 100 percent of its students hit their goals.”

Eagle County didn’t hit its federal goals. Neither did the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, widely viewed as one of the state’s best public school systems.

How important is it to hit those federal goals?

“I think it matters,” said Sallyann Bluhm, the mother of a student at Minturn Middle School. “It does help show a school’s success.

“If you told me that Minturn didn’t meet all its goals, I’d be at the door the next day. I want to know the answers and the reasoning behind it. It could be really important.”

In the hallways, Minturn Middle School Principal Toni Bousch said the kids don’t notice much of a difference between making their goals and not.

“What they do notice is they’re able to perform well, and they’re prepared for their CSAP tests,” Bousch said. “They feel more confident about them.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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