Arizona school districts between AYP rock and hard place
The Glendale Star
September 22, 2006

More than one-third of state schools fail to meet federal accountability benchmark

By Jean Bihn

Some Northwest Valley school officials say they are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to the best interests of students with special needs.

Deer Valley Unified School District Director of Student Achievement Vicki Meyers said two federal mandates, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA) have dueling guidelines.

IDEA requires school officials to provide non-standard accommodations, such as calculators or reading a test aloud, to students with special needs, while NCLB prohibits the same helps.

As a result, six of DVUSD's 35 schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress
(AYP) benchmarks set forth by NCLB.

AYP is based on, among other things, academic achievement, which is measured by the AIMS test; and a requirement that 95 percent of students in a school take the state-mandated assessment.

If a student is allowed the use of a non-standard accommodation to complete the AIMS test, they are not counted toward a school's 95 percent tested.

"All six were (because of) non-standard accommodations," Meyers said. "We told all the schools, you need to do what's best for kids."

Although every Peoria Unified School District school made AYP in the
2004-2005 school year, 15 of the district's 35 eligible schools failed to meet the requirements in 2005-2006.

PUSD Deputy Superintendent Denton Santarelli said, "The district made a conscientious decision to enforce the student IEPs (Individual Education
Plans) that are required by IDEA."

Teachers and districts are forced to choose between following an IEP or No Child Left Behind so schools and the district will make AYP, Santarelli said.

"As a district, we made a decision that we were going to err on the side of our students, and we were going to provide our students with what is required in their Individual Education Plan," he said. "As a result of that, we basically forfeited AYP because of the 95 percent rule."

Santarelli noted that all PUSD schools made the necessary academic gains to be in compliance with NCLB.

The number of Arizona schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) more than doubled over last year, and Arizona Department of Education officials blamed changes in federal guidelines.

Of 1,861 schools across the state evaluated in the 2005-2006 school year,
618 did not make AYP. Forty evaluations are still pending.

ADE spokesperson Amy Rezzonico said state officials determined the addition of English Language Learners and a lack of special education non-standard accommodations were behind the increase.

Previously, ELL students were allowed three years to get up to speed before they were added into the ranking, but officials shortened that to one year.

In the Glendale Elementary School District, Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Mark Joraanstad said of 12 schools not making AYP, nine schools failed because ELL subgroups did not meet the AIMS test objectives in reading.

"ELL was paramount," he said.

GESD schools making AYP were Glenn F. Burton, Glendale American, Horizon, Bicentennial South and Sunset Vista.

Just one of Glendale Union High School District's three schools in Glendale made AYP, Glendale High School. Both Apollo and Independence high schools failed to meet the required 95 percent tested.

"Clearly, there's a dilemma," GUHSD Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Johnson said, "because federal regulations require that a student's IEP be honored at all times. It's a legal document."

Johnson said GUHSD officials would not tell students with special needs that use of a calculator is okay for 179 days, but on this "one most important of days," the accommodation is not allowed.

"It's a Catch 22," she said.

AYP results for all Arizona schools may be accessed on the Arizona Department of Education's Web site at by selecting "School AYP Determinations 2005-2006" under the heading "Hot Topics."

Reach the reporter at or (623) 847-4611.