650 schools flunk progress test
Capitol Media Services
AZ education chief: Federal rule changes made number jump
By Howard Fischer
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/144110
PHOENIX — Students in more than a third of Arizona schools are not sufficiently advancing their learning, at least according to federal law.
About 650 schools out of the 1,881 public and charter schools in the state did not make "adequate yearly progress" last school year as required under the federal No Child Left Behind act, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education.
At the very least, the findings trigger requirements for schools to come up with improvement plans. But for 66 schools, they mean making actual changes in staff or curriculum — with 14 of these schools possibly having to get rid of their entire faculty.
By contrast, only 237 schools were classified last year as not making required progress.
The list of affected schools will be released later this week.
But state School Superintendent Tom Horne said the numbers are misleading because the U.S. Department of Education has changed the rules.
"Our data show that the students are learning more and have higher test scores," Horne said. "If the federal government had kept the rules the same, we would have had approximately the same number of schools making adequately yearly progress."
One change, he said, is the addition of grades four, six and seven to the testing program which, until now, only covered grades three, five and eight.
Horne explained that if students in any grade in a school do not pass any one of the tests, then the entire school fails. More grades, he said, provide more opportunities to fail.
In this case, about 150 additional schools are being listed as out of compliance.
But Horne said the real problem involves two other changes he described as arbitrary.
One provides just a one-year exemption from testing for students classified as English-language learners. After that, they have to take the test, and their scores count.
Until this year, these students had three years.
Horne said the components of No Child Left Behind include the state's own AIMS test. But a state law approved by voters in 2000 mandating the use of English immersion to teach students also prohibits the test from being administered in any language other than English.
So if more than a handful of English learners in a single grade fail to show adequate year-over-year progress on AIMS — which they can't take in their native language — then the entire school is listed as not making adequate yearly progress.
That change alone added more than 110 schools to the list of those not making progress over last year.
Horne has already filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Education, protesting the change as illegal.
Another change requires special-education students who are given certain forms of help the U.S. Department of Education does not recognize as acceptable to be counted as not taking the test. That, in turn, can result in an entire school failing, as 95 percent of students in every category at every grade must take the test.
For example, Horne said, student scores don't count if someone writes students' answers for them. He said that makes no sense as schools are required to come up with individual education plans for students with disabilities — plans that might include this kind of accommodation for a severely disabled student.
"The changes were, in my opinion, irrational," Horne said.
Being listed as not making yearly progress eventually can require major changes.
No action is required in the first year. A school still not making yearly progress in the second or third year must come up with an improvement plan.
By year four, there is a mandate for corrective action. That can mean replacing the staff related to the area of failure, fully implementing a new curriculum, appointing an outside expert or extending the school day or school year.
Arizona has 39 schools this year in that category, up from 30 in 2005.
Similar requirements exist for the fifth year; 13 schools are in that situation compared with 20 last year.
The 14 schools that have reached year six have few options, with the most likely being to replace most, if not all, of their staffs.
On StarNet See how area schools rate in a searchable database of standardized testing at azstarnet.com/education