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Nevada Says More than Half Their Schools Maybe Identified as Inadequate by NCLB

State education officials said Wednesday more than half of Nevada's public schools may be identified as failing to show "adequate yearly progress," as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but local school districts will get the chance to appeal before the final list is made public.

Keith Rheault, deputy superintendent of instruction for the Nevada Education Department, said of the 517 campuses evaluated for the 2002-03 academic year, 256 nine-month schools have been put on a tentative "watch list," including more than 100 in Clark County.

Schools that make the list for two or more consecutive years are labeled as needing improvement and face sanctions, including progressive penalties such as tighter state supervision and the potential removal of staff and a state takeover.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test all students in third through seventh grades and show yearly gains both overall and by student subgroups such as ethnicity, low-income, special education and limited English proficiency. Schools also must meet participation requirements for each subgroup. The federal law calls for states to set achievement benchmarks that increase each year, with all students showing proficiency by 2013.

Test results are still being compiled for the state's year-round schools, of which Clark County has 90. Once those findings are added to the current list, the number of Nevada schools that fail to show adequate yearly progress could go as high as 50 to 60 percent, Rheault said.

"It's a tough figure for some people to comprehend, but it's what we've been predicting all along," Rheault said. "We're off to a strong start in meeting the new state and federal standards, but we clearly still have work to do."

Elementary schools were evaluated using third and fifth grade scores on the statewide criterion reference test, while middle schools were judged on seventh grade performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. High schools were rated using state proficiency exam scores for 10th graders in 2002 and 11th graders in 2003.

Under federal law, if schools fail to show progress for a second consecutive year, they could be labeled as needing improvement and face sanctions. If there's a continued failure to improve in the third year, the school districts must take "corrective action," including replacing some staff, extending the school day or year, or appointing an outside expert to help.

If the school fails to improve in the fourth year, districts must take more serious action, such as turning over control of the school to the state, reopening the campus as a charter school, replacing all the staff or turning the school over to a private company.

The state in August released a list of 21 Title I schools needing improvement, including nine in Clark County. Title I schools receive a bigger share of federal dollars because they have larger populations of students from low-income homes. As required by law, the district has offered students at those schools transfers to more successful campuses.

Gloria Dopf, director of school improvement, said she expected many of the tentatively identified schools to win appeals on the final list, which is due to be released Tuesday.

"That's why it would inappropriate to release the tentative list before the appeals process," Dopf said. "We could come back later and say we were wrong and a school shouldn't have been on the list, but people tend to remember the first announcement, not the retraction."

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, a former special education teacher in Clark County, said she understood state officials' concerns about wrongly identifying schools. At the same time, Giunchigliani said, there needs to be public scrutiny of the appeals process.

"There's a way to strike a balance," Giunchigliani said. "We can fulfill the public's right to know without setting up a witch hunt."

One compromise could be releasing a list of schools that successfully appealed the designations, Giunchigliani said.

"That way parents could have a tool to judge whether the appeal was based on a legitimate issue they're concerned about, or whether it was a technicality in the federal law that doesn't impact the quality of their child's education," Giunchigliani said. "This may be something we need to revisit during the next Legislature."

Schools may appeal based on a variety of circumstances, including extraordinary events such as a fire drill interrupting an exam or significant changes to the student population because of rezoning.

There are schools on the tentative list that met all requirements for progress except the 95 percent participation rate, Dopf said. But when the exams were given during the last school year, the state required only 90 percent participation, Dopf said.

"It's not fair to punish a school for meeting the state law at the time but not the federal law that came later," Dopf said.

During the last legislative session lawmakers raised the requirement to 95 percent to bring the state's statutes in line with the No Child Left Behind Act.

This year is the only time that schools will be able to use the participation rate change as a basis for appeal, Dopf said.

"We're all on the same page now as far as what constitutes participation," Dopf said.

Karlene McCormick-Lee, assistant superintendent of research and accountability for the Clark County School District, said her office is in the process of reviewing the state's findings and drafting the appeals.

"We've already found everything from incorrect coding to basic calculation errors," McCormick-Lee said Wednesday. "We're still making our way through the rest of the appeal categories."

McCormick-Lee declined to say exactly how many Clark County schools were identified on the tentative list or how many she expected would successfully appeal.

"The fact of the matter is this the criteria the state has set down for us to meet and we're going to have schools that haven't done that," McCormick-Lee said. "When the watch list comes out there are going to be schools on it that make people say, 'Wow.' "

Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of instruction for the district, said failing to show adequate yearly progress does not necessarily mean a school isn't doing its job.

"Some of the criteria has nothing to do really with whether students are learning," Orci said. "If you can have an entire school labeled as failing because a single child was absent, then there's something wrong with the validity of the measuring stick."


— Emily Richmond
256 of Nevada's schools put on 'watch'
Las Vegas Sun
http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/lv-ed/2003/oct/02/515694576.html


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