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Governor Praises Schools That Don't "Make It" On NCLB

Hours after Gov. Jeb Bush praised Allapattah's Comstock Elementary for soaring despite high student poverty and low English proficiency, the state identified it as a Title I school that failed to make ''adequate yearly progress'' under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Also on the list of 48 schools released Wednesday: Stewart Street Elementary in Gadsden County, which was also singled out by the governor at a Tallahassee press conference.

The two schools jumped from F's to C and B, respectively, under Bush's A+ Plan for Education standards. But under the federal law, their performances made their students eligible to transfer away.

The odd discrepancy demonstrates new hurdles all schools must be aware of as NCLB kicks in this year. It measures achievement based on the improvement of some 40 subgroups of students, while state accountability is based only on individual student and lowest-quartile performances.

Any standardized measure is to some degree arbitrary, as critics of FCAT requirements for high-school graduation have argued.

Indeed, state Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, told The Herald that ''poverty has a lot to do with [performance],'' which is why -- along with what she called inadequate state education funding -- she thinks the FCAT should be used for school accountability grades, but not graduation.

Regardless of the NCLB results, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Francis Marine said Comstock's and Stewart Street's efforts are to be admired.

Earlier in the day, Bush stood next to Comstock principal Alejandro ''Alex'' Perez and called his accomplishments an example of how ''incredible things can happen'' if ``we organize ourselves the right way . . .

''I am so sick and tired of hearing people say over and over again that kids can't learn, that family structure and income drive everything,'' Bush said. ``It is not true; it is absolutely not true.''

The governor said 99 percent of Comstock's students are minorities -- mostly newly arrived Hispanic children from Central and South America. The same number also qualify for free or reduced lunches, and almost half do not speak English as their native language.

Bush said Perez took over last August at a school that had received two F's and two D's since 1999.

The new principal rallied his teachers, persuading them to tutor children after school five days a week and to hold Saturday math academies. He boosted attendance, treating them to prizes and pizza parties as rewards.

''Comstock Elementary is now a place where children want to be,'' Bush said.

Perez called it a ''challenging but rewarding year'' and saluted the school's teachers, parents and students for working ``extremely hard to make this possible.''

— Charles Savage & Leslie Clark
State, U.S. at odds on schools' progress
Miami Herald
June 19, 2003


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