Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0929fedlabels29.html

220 schools in Arizona on feds' underachieve list

The Arizona Republic
Sept. 29, 2003

Pat Kossan

The state will release a list of 220 Arizona schools today that federal officials say haven't met performance standards for two to four years.

Arizona education officials are quick to add they don't think all the schools deserve to be on the list.

Even more surprising, federal officials are cautioning parents not to be too alarmed if their child's school is included.

Jo Ann Webb, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman, said it doesn't necessarily mean a school has failed its students.

"It means the school can do better and it needs to improve," Webb said. "It means there are certain areas the school needs to pay attention to."

On Oct. 15, another 100 to 200 Arizona schools are expected to be named to the underachievers list for the first time but they won't face any federal sanctions unless they are on the list for two years.

Arizona schools on the list for two or three years will be required to pay for transportation for students to attend better performing schools within the same district.

Those on the list for four years must set aside 10 percent of their federal funds for tutoring students who are falling behind.

If any Arizona school stays on the "needs improvement" list for five years, federal law directs the state to take more dramatic action, such as withholding money or taking charge of the school.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the formula that federal officials use to separate good schools from poor schools is unfair. He encouraged parents to put more faith in state rankings, also due to be released Oct. 15. The Arizona formula that ranks schools as "underperforming," "performing," "highly performing" or "excelling" is more accurate, he said.

Many of the schools that made the federal list also will be labeled as "underperforming" by the state in October. But Arizona's formula for ranking schools is so different that some of the 220 schools ranked as poor performers by the federal standards are expected to qualify as "performing" and even "highly performing" under new Arizona standards, Horne said.

To make the federal poor performance list, a school's AIMS test scores must fall below federal expectations. A school also could be on the list if AIMS scores fall below expectations in any of eight demographic groups tracked by the feds. The groups include students who are African-American, Latino, American Indian, Caucasian and Asian. The other three groups are students living in poverty, students learning English, and those in special education.

When a school fails to improve test scores in any of these groups, federal officials call it failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. The federal formula is part of a new federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all children, even the poorest and most disadvantaged, to be working at grade level by 2013.

Horne said the federal formula makes it too easy for schools to fail. The state formula is far more complicated than the federal formula and includes other factors, such as Stanford 9 scores and incremental improvement of a school's overall AIMS test scores.

"We worked hard to make the state system fair and accurate, whereas the federal system has a fatal flaw," Horne said. "The overriding result is to overidentify schools that fail."

The federal government's formula to determine Adequate Yearly Progress is too new to be reliable, has no track record and is not the best way to judge a school's performance, said Paul Koehler, director of WestEd, a non-profit education research service, and an education consultant to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. It isn't even the same from state to state, he said.

Many states, including Arizona, have negotiated changes to the federal formula and the number of schools failing to make AYP across the country is as low as 8 percent in some states and as high as 90 percent in others, he said.

If a child's school is on the federal list, Koehler suggests parents ask the principal why the school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

"And most importantly, what's next? What will the school do to ensure it won't happen again?" Koehler said.

The 220 schools expected to make today's list are among the 950, or about half of Arizona schools, in which at least 2 percent of the student population lives in poverty. These schools qualify to receive Title 1 federal grants, about $188 million last school year, to help educate about 370,000 poor Arizona students. Research shows children living in poverty have a tougher time in school and Title I grants help schools pay for the academic extras poor children may need to keep up with their peers. That could include tutoring, parent workshops, or teacher training.

Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com.