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New Jersey Joins Chorus Complaining about NCLB Ratings
"These lists are nonsense," said Juliette Johnson, a spokeswoman for Gov. James E. McGreevey.

TRENTON, Oct. 3 Three-quarters of New Jersey's 361 high schools have received warnings that they may be placed on the state's list of failing schools, education officials said on Friday.

But as the state's Department of Education released the list of schools that had received "early warning" notices under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Education Commissioner William L. Librera again joined a chorus of educators across the country who complain that the rating system was flawed and erroneously branded many good schools as failures.

The assessment of the schools is based on the High School Proficiency Assessment tests taken this spring, and evaluates 40 different factors. Mr. Librera said that many of the 271 schools cited on the list were actually exemplary, but had their test scores skewed by the grades of special education students or those with limited proficiency in English.

"These are not failing schools,' Mr. Librera said in a statement. "Many of these fine schools have been placed in `early warning' because they did not meet criteria for one or two indicators out of 40. That does not equate to `failing,' not in the least. Any characterization that these schools are `failing' is inaccurate and wrong."

The No Child Left Behind Act, an initiative of President Bush, was intended to improve the quality of education by holding schools to higher, clearly identifiable, standards. Under the federal law, schools that do not meet standards in two consecutive years may face sanctions and be required to offer parents the option of transferring their children to another school.

Many educators say that the standards are too harsh and rigid, and offer unrealistically brief time periods for schools to show improvement in problem areas. Dr. Librera has spent much of the past month trying to bolster the public for the unsettling news two weeks ago he announced that the number of high schools found deficient would be high and he has since met with assorted groups of parents and administrators.

Edithe Fulton, president of the New Jersey Education Association, has also sought to rally parents and educators by releasing other testing data that suggests that the state's public schools are performing well.

"By taking a snapshot of a single day, this law fails to recognize and applaud the good work going on in our public schools, and gives citizens a false picture of our entire system of public education," Ms. Fulton said late last month.

Even with that advanced preparation however, many parents and administrators were still jarred to find that the list named so many schools, including some of state's most highly regarded schools, like Princeton and Ridgewood.

"New Jersey has higher standards than most other states, and Princeton High School upholds those standards," said Claire Sheff Kohn, superintendent of Princeton Regional Schools. "The test found that one small subgroup of students three students might not have made the kind of progress that would have been desired, and that is why we were placed on the list. Something as small as three students should not have a high school like ours, which offers a high quality education, on this kind of list."

About 40 percent of New York schools did not meet all the criteria, and in Connecticut 149 of 1,000 schools also received early warnings.

Democrats have been harshly critical of the program, saying that it was unfair of Congress and the Bush administration to impose new mandates on local schools without providing the money necessary to pay for them. The McGreevey administration joined those critics on Friday, saying that the process was flawed.

"These lists are nonsense," said Juliette Johnson, a spokeswoman for Gov. James E. McGreevey. "If the federal government wants us to help educate our children it should give us funding."

— David Kocieniewski
To New Jersey Officials' Scoffs, Most State High Schools Appear on U.S. Warning List
New York Times


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