Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2004

Education law focuses on testing

February 26, 2004

Editor's note: This is the first story in a three-part series examining the No Child Left Behind Act, and its effects on administrators, teachers and students in the Basehor-Linwood School District.

The next few weeks will be an uneasy time for administrators and educators in the Basehor-Linwood School District.

From February to April, students in the district and across Kansas will take Kansas assessment tests, the barometers used in determining compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law that went into effect in 2002.

Not only do the tests measure a student's grasp of core subjects like math, reading and science, but a school's accreditation and future funding hinge in part on test results.

But pressure doesn't stem only from the education law, said Bill Hatfield, school district assistant superintendent, in charge of overseeing curriculum.

"It isn't just about federal sanctions," Hatfield said. "The results are made public, they're put in the newspaper. Teachers and administrators take it very personally either way. We enjoy it if the scores are above, and we get upset if they're down.

"We feel pressure, but I think it's fair to say we put more pressure on ourselves as well."

Since the law's inception two years ago, school districts around the country have scrambled to comply with the exhaustive legislation.

In Basehor-Linwood, educators have revised curriculums, built Web sites to provide more information to parents and classroom lessons are planned thoroughly to tie together with areas on assessment tests and benchmarks.

In 2004, the school district will spend at least a half-dozen in-service days on complying with the No Child Left Behind Act. Hours and dollars spent on the education bill are difficult to tally because so many day-to-day routines stem in part from the law, school officials said.

The endless work administrators and teachers put into complying with the law comes down to one thing and one thing only -- student achievement on assessment tests.

Administrators are hesitant to predict how their students will do on the exams; however, Hatfield said he believes Basehor-Linwood students will serve admirably.

"I think we're going to find our scores in general are at the benchmark or above," he said.

But, when you're dealing with students between the ages of five and 18, no matter how well prepared, there's no such thing as certainty. And there lies the uneasiness.

What is No Child Left Behind?

The No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. Its primary goal is that by 2014, 100 percent of all students in public education will be proficient in math, social studies, science and reading.

And when the law says all students, it means it. In short, students divided into subgroups by minority, special education, non-English speaking or family income must test at the same levels as everyone else.

There must be a minimum of 30 students per subgroup to count, and if any of those subgroups fail to meet proficiency levels, the school fails.

It's all or nothing just as the name suggests.

"All groups have to meet proficiency," Hatfield said. "Those are challenges. Some traditionally have been weaker assessment-wise throughout the nation."

School looks to rebound

In 2003, the Kansas Department of Education invalidated all student assessment test scores at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School, a Basehor-Linwood school, because of flawed testing procedures.

Then-principal Tom Sack resigned, saying he failed to follow testing protocol.

The school is listed as not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress and faces sanctions if it does not meet progress standards in consecutive years.

Sack's replacement, Linda McFarlane, said she and the staff at Glenwood Ridge do feel some pressure to wipe clean the controversy surrounding last year.

"There has been a lot of additional stress this year because of the circumstances," McFarlane said.

The staff at the elementary school has worked diligently to prepare students for the assessment tests this year. Teachers have worked with students on better test taking strategies and developed a strategic plan to address the school's weakest areas on the tests.

Even the school's Parent Teacher Organization is chipping in by providing high-protein snacks for test-taking days.

It's all a collective effort to show the true abilities of the Glenwood Ridge students, McFarlane said. The principal is confident that will happen this time around.

"We're going to do well," she said. "All this hard work is going to pay off."

The recipe for success

In some form or another, whether it's under the current No Child Left Behind Act umbrella or not, the new requirements of schools are here to stay, Hatfield said.

"It is not going to go away," he said. "In the very remote event there is legislation to repeal, it'll just be replaced by something else. It's important to understand this is something that will not go away. The public expects results and that's OK. I think most teachers would agree."

In Basehor-Linwood, administrators are looking for a blend of high-quality curriculum and teaching along with parent involvement to successfully navigate through the new requirements.

"For schools to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and jump levels of proficiency, it's going to take teachers and the home," Hatfield said. "That is a huge factor and the biggest part of this mix."

Next week: How No Child Left Behind affects teachers.

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