Scores don’t determine school’s abilities

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

We have a report card on our school systems called Adequate Yearly Progress behind us. Unfortunately, few people outside the education system know what it means. They just see “fail” marks.

AYP, as it’s known, is the state’s annual assessment results of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The premise of the 2002 act is to have every child in America 100 percent proficient in reading and math by 2014. A worthy goal, but the devil is in the details of this federally-mandated idea and those details bite harder every year.

Schools must close gaps in subgroups sorted by race, poverty, language and special needs.

To reach the 2014 goal, the standards rise annually, and more students in each category must improve on AYP tests. Even school administrators who aren’t having trouble with AYP agree a train wreck is coming.

In a recent Time magazine article about NCLB, a retired Ohio superintendent said, “NCLB is like a Russian novel. That’s because it’s long, it’s complicated, and in the end, everybody gets killed.”

For New Mexico’s schools, the detail biting larger schools right now is the special needs students subgroup.

Portales has seen admirable improvement in reading and math skill in its schools and that’s shown in the category that reflects “all students” on AYP. Unfortunately, as school officials put it, there is one way to pass AYP and 37 ways to fail. Our schools improved overall, but six of eight are labeled as “failing schools.”

In Carbondale, Colo., where I lived before returning to Portales, one elementary school’s stumbling block was the English language learners subgroup. When I left, 50 percent of that school’s students were English language learners; now it is over 70 percent. Teachers were adapting and still coming up with gains school-wide. Yet, the school was labeled a failure.

When that school hit the federally-mandated corrective action designation, Colorado’s best education minds investigated and found no solution the school hadn’t tried.

It was a good school under tough circumstances, but NCLB labeled it a failure. That label threatened to drag teachers down. Fortunately, some dynamic administrators kept them onboard and focused on educating children despite NCLB.

Portales teachers have the same encouragement, but could use more.

After listening to parents complain about AYP failures at a special board meeting Wednesday, retired Eastern New Mexico University professor Vern Witten said we should stop worrying about bubbles on a test and start worrying about educating each individual child.

Michelle Borba, an education speaker, addressed teachers and handful of parents at the start of the school year last year. She advocates a community-wide effort to help kids succeed by building what she calls moral intelligence.

Witten is doing his part as a tutor to kids. Borba will be back again later this month to speak to teachers. Anyone interested in the direction of our schools and children should go.

I believe NCLB has had a positive impact on Portales’ schools. Six out of eight schools are failing today under its standards, but things are not all bad.

I urge you as a parent, educator or community member to take this report card with a very large grain of salt. The federal government hasn’t answered all of our problems. Once you’ve digested it — get involved and find out what you can do to improve our schools.