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Most New Jersey High Schools Could Get U.S. Warning Letter
About two-thirds of New Jersey's public high schools could receive early warning letters in the next few weeks saying they are in danger of failing to comply with stricter federal educational standards, state education officials said yesterday.

The officials said, however, that parents should not panic about the overall condition of the state's 389 high schools, given the requirements of the federal standards established by the No Child Left Behind Act.

For the purposes of the new requirements, schools have been judged in 41 categories to determine whether they meet minimum standards. If they fall below standards in any one category, they will receive the early warning letter. Once they receive that letter, they will have to show improvement within two years to avoid being placed on a list of "schools needing to improve."

New Jersey, like other states, has already been reporting whether its elementary and middle schools are achieving standards set by the federal act, adopted in January 2002. But this is the first time they have released information about high schools, because the state began using a new test the High School Proficiency Assessment in the spring of 2002, and has only those results and those of spring 2003 to establish a new benchmark.

William L. Librera, the state's commissioner of education, said in a briefing yesterday in Trenton that he had concerns with some of the reporting requirements of the federal law, but he said that in the long run it enabled states to help local schools avoid failure.

"At its core," he said, "we view this as an opportunity to both challenge and assess our schools, and lend assistance where needed."

The new test measures achievement in language arts and mathematics, grading students as either advanced proficient, proficient or partially proficient. The state has to submit results for nine categories of students, including various ethnic groups, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and students with limited skills in English, but only if any school had at least 20 students in each category. They also had to report graduation and dropout rates of the school's students and the rate of participation in each of the tests for both years.

A low score in any category would cause the early warning letter to be written. In each school, 73 percent of the students in each subgroup had to score advanced proficient or proficient in the language arts portion of the test, and 55 percent had to achieve those results in the mathematics portion of the test, to avoid getting an early warning letter.

"In one school, the participation rate for one of the subgroups was 0.9 percent below the acceptable level, so that triggered an early warning letter," said Richard Vespucci, a spokesman for the Department of Education. "But that's the way the law is. You have to report that."

Dr. Librera said that a final count of the schools receiving the early warning letters would come in a few weeks.

Some educators criticized the federal requirements as misleading to parents. The New Jersey School Boards Association has joined a national effort to lobby Congress for changes to the law to make the information more accurate.

"The public deserves accountability about school performance, but that information must provide an accurate picture," Edwina M. Lee, executive director for the New Jersey group, said yesterday after the high school data was released. "The reporting process under No Child Left Behind can lead to misperceptions and can cast too many schools in a negative light where they do not belong."

— Maria Newman
About two-thirds of New Jersey's public high schools could receive early warning letters in the next few weeks saying they are in danger of failing to comply with stricter federal educational standard
New York Times

9/22/03


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