SCHOOLS MAY BE PUT
Palm Beach Post -- July 12, 2003
by Kimberly Miller
School district officials are preparing for the possibility that up to 60
percent of Palm Beach County's schools could be put on federal academic
probation this summer, regardless of the grades the state gives them.
Under the new No Child Left Behind Act, poor students in schools that receive
federal money must perform to state standards in reading and math or the school
is considered to have not made "adequate yearly progress." There are 96 Palm
Beach County schools in which 50 percent or more of the students are poor enough
to receive free or reduced lunch.
Some of those schools, however, have received high grades -- even A's -- from
the state's accountability plan because it emphasizes improvement from one year
to the next.
The federal standard is different. It requires that a standard percentage of
students perform at grade level, although it does build in a small improvement
clause that could save some schools.
On the Treasure Coast, educators are still waiting for word on their schools'
Sandy Wolfe, the St. Lucie County School District's interim superintendent, said
officials there have not attempted to calculate how their schools will fare
under the new federal requirements. They expect the state Department of
Education to notify them about their schools' standing soon.
"With this being a new law and there being so much uncertainty, we have not
tried to calculate that ourselves," she said. "We're waiting."
In Martin County, school board members plan to discuss the matter at a July 22
The clashing accountability plans, under which an A-graded school in Florida can
still be on federal probation, come from close allies: Gov. Jeb Bush and his
brother President George W. Bush.
Schools report due out soon
Gov. Bush's program, the "A-Plus" accountability plan, has remained largely
unaffected by the federal law until now because its testing program met all of
the act's guidelines. But as President Bush's law takes effectin the Sunshine
State, educators are watching the politicians closely.
"What will be interesting in this politically is how the state works with the
federal government," said Palm Beach County Superintendent Art Johnson. "I don't
think the feds are in a position to try and manage what is going on in the
schools at a local level nationwide. Under the Constitution, education is a
The Florida Department of Education is expected to release a report this month
or next that will show which schools statewide did not make "adequate yearly
progress" this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
When asked whether a majority of Palm Beach County's poor schools are in danger
of not making the cut, Joe Orr, a consultant working with the district, said, "I
would think that's a good guess."
That means roughly 59,000 students could find themselves in schools that don't
meet federal standards.
If schools do not meet the academic standard two years in a row, their students
must be allowed to go to better-performing public schools and the district must
School officials cannot use crowding as an excuse not to send students to
better-performing schools, a fact that could derail the county's plan to curtail
new development near crowded schools.
Also, if a large number of schools have to offer school choice, the district
could have trouble finding better-performing schools to send students to.
"We may find ourselves scrambling," Orr said.
This year, meeting standards means 31 percent of students are reading on grade
level and 38 percent are performing math on grade level. By the 2004-2005 school
year, 48 percent of students must be reading on grade level, and 53 percent must
be doing math on grade level.
That slowly increases until 2014 when all students must perform on grade level.
The standards must be met for nine subgroups of students based on race, poverty
level, disability and whether the student's native language is not English.
The only exception in the law is a "safe harbor" rule that says a subgroup does
not have to meet the standards if its test scores are 10 percent higher than the
Still, students in six Palm Beach County schools, including all of the high
schools in the Glades and nearly all of the elementary schools in Riviera Beach,
did not meet federal standards this year.
The schools affected
are West Riviera, Lincoln and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune elementaries in Riviera
Beach, Glades Central High School and West Technical Education Center in Belle
Glade and Pahokee Middle/Senior High School.
The deadline to notify the school district if a parent wants to change to a
higher-performing school is July 15.
schools were singled out because they received F grades from the state last year
based on scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
New worries, confusion
Even though some of the schools raised their grades to a C this year, it wasn't
enough to meet federal guidelines.
Elementary School Principal Keith Oswald is afraid his school will be in the
Although his Lake Worth school raised its grade from a D to a B this year, 54
percent of his students are Hispanic and 95 percent are poor -- both subgroups
that need to meet the standards set under No Child Left Behind.
In math, Hispanic students did not meet the standards under No Child Left
Behind, coming in below the 38 percent mark in every grade level. Oswald was
unsure whether they would meet the "safe harbor" requirement of having improved
by 10 percent over last year.
"I'm really confused," Oswald said. "And I'm concerned. It's ironic because my
letter grade went up, but I could still be in trouble."