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Providence Schools Take a Hit from NCLB

Schools move closer to meeting targets
Though city schools are still a long way from meeting standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act, gains in annual rankings are called substantial.

PROVIDENCE -- The city took an overall hit in the annual rankings of Rhode Island public schools, with the federal No Child Left Behind Act raising the bar on the definition of "improvement."

But some high notes for Providence still sounded yesterday when Peter McWalters, the commissioner of education, released classifications for each elementary and secondary school in the state at a news conference in Warwick.

Classical High School remained the only Providence public school in the high-performing category, while one high school -- the new Health, Science and Technology Academy -- moved up from low performing to moderately performing.

Its sister school, the Providence Academy of International Studies, almost made it to the moderately performing level.

Two elementary schools, Lillian Feinstein at Sackett Street, and William D'Abate in Olneyville, crossed the line from low performing to moderately performing.

The Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, which last year became the first elementary school in the city classified as moderately performing, slipped back into the low-performing category, even though it met all its academic targets in the new rating system.

And the Veazie Street Elementary School, the only city elementary school to face any sanction last year, has been designated as "making progress."

Even though it has not raised scores enough to become a moderately performing school, Veazie will not have to offer parents the option of transferring their children to another, better performing school, as it did last year.

The state's classification for schools in Providence also lists two charter schools, even though they are not answerable to the city school district.

One of them, the Times2 Academy, climbed from low performing to moderately performing.

The other, the Textron Chamber of Commerce, did not quite make the jump to moderately performing but was described as "making progress."

The state, following the dictates of No Child Left Behind, has adopted a complex ranking system built on a framework of 21 targets, 18 of them academic and 3 related to participation in state tests and attendance or graduation rates.

The academic targets cover performance in language arts and math for each of six racial or ethnic groups, as well as students with special needs and those with limited English skills.

A low-performing school cannot be "making progress" unless it hits all 21 targets.

Michael Sorum, the director of assesment for Providence schools, has said that recording the performance according to ethnic background puts inner-city schools at a disadvantage.

Suburban schools without statistically significant numbers of disadvantaged or minority students -- fewer than 45 in each category -- get a "free ride," Sorum said, an automatic 100 percent score.

He said most of the "free rides" occur in suburban districts, since the bulk of disadvantaged and minority students live in a handful of urban districts.

Among the 21 performance targets of No Child Left Behind are those specifically linked to the achievement of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, whites, special education students, and English-language learners.

But McWalters said yesterday that school districts as a whole are responsible for the small numbers of students who are not counted at the school level.

That means that a community of high-performing schools may still have a district "in need of improvement," McWalters said.

McWalters said that the federal government had made a conscious decision to abandon the "low-performing" category because "that's the one that is the judgment."

It has been replaced by the category "in need of improvement," he said, and that classification should not be considered bad.

District classifications had not yet been released yesterday afternoon, although McWalters said he believed the Tiverton school district will be among those classified "in need of improvement."

Sorum, meanwhile, said in an interview earlier this week that No Child Left Behind obscures the incremental advances made by inner-city schools.

On average, the city's elementary schools met 17 out of 21 targets this year; 10 more than last year, Sorum said.

The middle schools met 10 performance targets, 6 more than in 2002, he said, and high schools hit 13 of the 21 targets. The high schools more than doubled the 5 targets met last year,Sorum said.

While this kind of progress might be "insufficient" according to the federal law, Sorum called it "substantial."

McWalters, meanwhile, said that Providence has more than a third of schools "in need of improvement," -- 36 out of 98 statewide.

But McWalters said 11 of those 36 Providence schools fell only one or two targets short of "making progress."

He said the 11 Providence schools are poised for a "tremendous opportunity" to move forward next year.

— Gina Macris
Schools Move Closer to Target
Providence Journal


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