Saturday, May 25, 2013
As superintendent of Falmouth public schools, Barbara Powers finds herself in an enviable but insecure position, heading a school district that currently meets all federal targets for academic improvement under the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.
Falmouth Superintendent Barbara Powers, standing, meets with Falmouth High School Social Studies teachers recently to discuss measures concerning this year's curricula as well as the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act.
Portland Press Herald photo by Gordon Chibrosk
WHERE SCHOOLS STAND
Maine assesses students’ academic progress for the federal No Child Left Behind Act by examining scores on the New England Common Assessment Program test in grades 3 through 8 and on the SAT in Grade 11.
Here’s how the bulk of 608 public schools in Maine performed in the race to make “adequate yearly progress” on tests taken during the 2010-11 school year, which established their AYP status for 2011-12:
Source: Maine Department of Education
While 70 percent of Maine's 608 public schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" on standardized tests taken during the 2010-11 school year, Falmouth schools performed well above reading and mathematics proficiency targets imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Those targets have risen steadily since 2006 and now demand proficiency from 66 percent to 78 percent of students, depending on the subject and grade level.
Without intervention, U.S. school districts are hurtling toward a long-anticipated statistical brick wall in 2013-14, when all students must be proficient in reading and mathematics, including those in minority, special education and economically disadvantaged subgroups.
As proud as Powers is of her school district, she knows Falmouth will miss the 100 percent mark, despite its advantages as an affluent suburb of Portland, Maine's largest city.
"It's ludicrous," Powers said recently. "We're all going to be failing schools in the eyes of the federal government. It's been a standing joke within the educational community, and it's been hard to get teachers anywhere to look seriously at the concept of making adequate yearly progress."
To avoid hitting the wall, Maine is joining 33 other states and the District of Columbia in seeking a "flexibility" waiver for No Child Left Behind, also known as a Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited states to seek waivers because Congress has failed to amend and reauthorize the act as recommended by a variety of stakeholders. The Maine Department of Education, with help from Powers and other educators, is developing a new system to measure adequate yearly progress (AYP) -- the federal term for annual academic improvement. The new measures will establish school-based targets that still meet federal guidelines. The application is due Thursday and is expected to be accepted.
The new measures, as well as state-sponsored interventions and rewards, would take effect this school year. They would be applied to scores on standardized tests taken in 2012-13, which would establish each school's AYP status for 2013-14. Maine uses the New England Common Assessment Program, test administered in grades 3 through 8; and the SAT, administered to high school juniors.
Maine already has received a waiver, so it won't have to use higher targets -- ranging from 77 percent to 86 percent proficiency -- to measure progress on tests taken during the 2011-12 school year, which will be the basis of 2012-13 AYP status results to be released later this month.
The state again will use the 2010-11 targets, which ranged from 66 percent to 78 percent.
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said the No Child Left Behind law remains flawed, and he admitted that the state's new progress measures still would be complicated. And still, the law really will affect only about 450 schools that share Maine's $51.2 million annual allocation of federal Title I funding for economically disadvantaged students.
However, Bowen and other educators said the outcome of the new measures would be better, trading arbitrary, unrealistic targets that some schools never met, for school-based, attainable goals that would provide a meaningful assessment of improvement.
All schools would be expected to improve, they said, with the understanding that each school has different a population and different challenges.
"(No Child Left Behind) is badly built, and Congress has been derelict in its duty to fix it," Bowen said. "We've tried to make it less bad."
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