Original URL: http://news.statesmanjournal.com/article.cfm?i=67027

Schools put to the test
Implementing standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind law will be a challenge at local schools.
Statesman Journal
August 31, 2003

This year will be all about the tests.

For 25 Salem-Keizer schools, students’ performance on state math and reading tests will determine whether they are labeled “failing schools.”

For 11 of those schools, the designation would mean that students can transfer next fall to better-performing schools, with more sanctions following if scores don’t improve.

It’s all part of sweeping new federal legislation, called No Child Left Behind, that’s changing the way schools operate.

The law also requires more training for teachers, outside tutoring for students in underperforming schools, and disclosure to parents of everything from violent incidents to staff qualifications.

Its ultimate aim: to ensure that every student — including minorities, low-income students and those with disabilities — can pass minimum standards.

“Philosophically, having all kids succeed is what all of us went into education for,” Salem-Keizer Superintendent Kay Baker said. “The underlying premise is certainly something all of us can embrace.”

Putting that into practice, however, will be a challenge.

The Salem-Keizer School District has large numbers of low-income, minority and highly mobile students who perform, on average, significantly below their white and more affluent peers.

No Child Left Behind requires each of those subgroups to meet state standards.

Last year, 68 percent of white students districtwide met state standards in English, and only 34 percent of Hispanic students did so.

In math, 64 percent of white students met state standards, and 32 percent of Hispanic students did so.

“The numbers are official now on the schools failing these kids so miserably,” said Eduardo Angulo, chairman of the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality, after the scores were released earlier this month. “This is the reality Latino children and minority children are faced with in our schools.”

The information gives ammunition to the Coalition and other groups advocating for more help for minority students.

But Angulo said he also fears that minority students will now be stigmatized as the cause of a school’s “failing” designation.

And the law’s provision allowing students at low-performing schools to transfer won’t help minorities, Angulo said.

“Why would they get any more help at another school?” he said.

Baker said the district already is making good progress at helping minority students. Although they don’t meet targets under the new federal law, their scores are increasing, she said.

For example, the number of Hispanic students meeting state standards increased significantly in both reading and math last year.

“For us to say we’re not meeting the needs of those students — I think we have a program that is meeting the needs of those students,” Baker said. “We’re growing in the right direction.”

The school district will get some extra federal money — officials aren’t sure how much — to implement reforms. Baker also plans to use some of the unbudgeted state money that the district will receive because of a higher-than-expected funding level from the Legislature.

Among her plans:

Reduce the sizes of elementary-school reading classes.

Hire an assistant superintendent of academic affairs.

Provide bilingual-teacher team leaders at each of the secondary schools.

“Low-performing schools and the information we have on (test scores) must provide focus for our decisions,” Baker said.

School board members said they support that focus. But already, some are worried about No Child Left Behind’s unintended consequences.

For example, the law requires districts to report violence-related expulsions to the state. Each year, the state will release a list of schools considered “persistently dangerous,” based on expulsions during a two-year period. Students at those schools would be given the option of transferring to a safer school.

Two Salem-Keizer schools lead the state in the number of expulsions for weapons, meaning it’s likely that they will appear on the list at some point.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that those schools are more dangerous than others, said Mike Basinger, school board chairman. Instead, it’s a reflection of the district’s “zero tolerance” policy for weapons and violence.

The school board already is discussing whether to revise its expulsion policy to allow lesser punishments for first-time and less-serious offenders.

Basinger also worries that the emphasis on core subjects such as reading and math will take away from non-core areas, such as art, music and advanced placement classes.

“We have to watch and make sure that we don’t sacrifice one thing for another,” he said.

No Child Left Behind timeline

Fall 2003: Schools that are in “school improvement” status for two consecutive years must begin offering school choice to families. There are 14 such schools in Oregon; none are in the Salem-Keizer School District.

2005-06: Annual statewide assessments for reading and math in grades 3-8 must be in place. By the end of the year, all teachers in core academic subjects must meet requirements to be highly qualified. All teaching  assistants in Title One schools must be highly qualified.

2013-14: All students must reach proficiency in math, reading and science.

Tracy Loew can be reached at (503) 399-6779.