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Groups seek changes to 'No Child' law

Educators urging change in the federal No Child Left Behind law gathered yesterday to convey some bad news: The number of Pennsylvania schools falling short of goals is likely to jump this year - from just over 400 to more than 700.

The primary reason is that the state is raising the bar this year on the percentage of students who must score at grade level in reading and math in its 1,750 schools.

When results are released in September, schools will be listed as passing only if 45 percent of all students are proficient in math and 54 percent in reading. That's an increase from 35 percent in math and 45 percent in reading. This standard must be met by all students, as well as subgroups such as poor, racial and ethnic minorities, special education, and students learning English.

If federal rules governing state testing aren't changed, the educators said yesterday, three-quarters of the state's public schools could get penalized by 2014.

Their point: The schools aren't slipping, they are getting stung.

Schools are being subjected to "unnecessary sanctions," said Samantha Anderson, spokesman for Communities for Quality Education, a public-education advocacy group in Washington that has been monitoring the No Child Left Behind law and advocates increased funding for districts. The group was joined yesterday by local educators at a news conference on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.

So far, the group has analyzed the impact of the law in six states, including Pennsylvania (New Jersey is not included).

In Pennsylvania, 178 of 411 failing schools missed adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals last year because their special-education students did not achieve 35 percent proficiency in math and 45 percent in reading.

With no modification in the federal law, the group's analysis shows that a majority of schools in Bucks (75 percent), Chester (77 percent), Delaware (82.5 percent), Montgomery (76 percent) and Philadelphia (82 percent) would receive failing labels by 2014, when the federal goal seeks 100 percent proficiency among students.

The dire predictions are in line with numerous studies challenging the No Child Left Behind aim of achieving total proficiency by 2014. And the law, already modified on special education and some other technical issues, will undergo a full review by Congress in 2007.

"We fully support the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, but it would be professional malpractice not to correct the flaws in the law," said Lisa Andrejko, superintendent of the Norristown Area School District.

Norristown is an example of a district under intense pressure to improve performance. The district and its high school were labelled as "failing" primarily because too few of its special-education and limited-English-speaking students scored at grade level.

Andrejko noted that her district has added numerous programs to improve achievement.

"If NCLB were repealed tomorrow, none of those practices would disappear," she said.

Last year, Andrejko was among more than 100 school superintendents to call for revisions in the law, with concerns about testing students with special needs and those with limited skills in English. The superintendents also called for increased federal money to help schools improve.

The law was modified to exempt more special-education students, but critics say far more youngsters with learning disabilities should not be subjected to the test.


— Connie Langland
Philadelphia Inquirer


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