As the number of states that have applied for sanction waivers from No Child Left Behind has risen, schools in California — which cannot qualify as a state for waivers — have continued to fall into program improvement.
Locally, there are currently nine Nevada County schools under program improvement sanctions. The legislation, which was meant to ensure academic success for America’s youth, has instead tied teachers’ hands in the classroom and tied up money in the districts’ budgets, local administrators charge.
Schools fall into two years of mandated “program improvement” when they fail to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years.
That is measured with student participation in testing and the percentage of students who score at or above proficiency in English-language arts and mathematics high school graduation rates and growth in the Academic Performance Index.
In the Grass Valley School District, Scotten Elementary School met its standards and achieved “safe harbor” — if the school meets standards two years in a row, it will no longer be sanctioned, Lyman Gilmore School is in its third year, because it failed to meet the English language-arts and mathematics standards.
In the Nevada City School District, Deer Creek Elementary School is in its first year because of mathematics standards, and Seven Hills Intermediate School is in its first year because of both standards.
In the Nevada Joint Union High School District, Nevada Union did not meet both standards, but did make API and graduation rates. Bear River did not meet mathematics standards, but does not receive Title I funds and is not in program improvement.
Magnolia Intermediate School is in its second year of program improvement for failure to meet mathematics standards.
Ready Springs and Grizzly Hill elementary schools were both in the first year and achieved “safe harbor,” while Union Hill failed to meet mathematics standards and is in its first year of program improvement.
The former Hennessy School was under program improvement, but when the school became Grass Valley Charter, it received a new education code and was no longer sanctioned.
Facing the consequences
For the first two years of program improvement, schools must revise their plan within three months to cover a two-year period, and allocate 10 percent of its funds for staff professional development.
In the third year, schools must make corrective actions to either replace school staff, implement new curriculum, decrease management authority, appoint an outside expert, extend the school day or year, or restructure the internal organizational structure of the school.
In the fourth and fifth years, the school must be restructured to re-open as a charter, replace all or most staff including the principal, contract with an outside entity to manage the school, or the school will be taken over by the state.
Schools in all years also have to notify parents and, if desired, provide transportation to a school that is not in program improvement.
While accountability is beneficial, the consequences are too harsh and counter-productive, said Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson.
“The concept is not bad. The concept of student data, being held accountable, looking at different subgroups and what resources you can put toward those subgroups, that all makes sense,” he said.
“(But) it’s not giving you the adequate funds to do that. Taking away funds you already had and forcing you to transport kids to other schools, how does that help improve instruction? That’s totally political. It has nothing to do with what’s best for improving student proficiency.”
Because the standards use test scores from the previous year to apply a target to the following year, a problem can arise if the student population changes, Fredrickson said.
“With the new CALpads program, students take their assessment results with them, so there is a better system now of not having to start over every time a kid comes to your school,” he said. “But students have a lot of mobility and you’re dealing with different student populations every year. It makes it a challenge.”
Lack of funding, narrow focus bog
Other administrators said there is little funding to support the needed changes.
“It’s kind of like an unfunded mandate now where they tell you (that) you have to do these things, but there is no additional funding for it,” said John Baggett, principal of Lyman Gilmore Middle and Scotten Elementary schools.
Both schools implemented teacher coordination and collaboration days, intervention committees and tutoring sessions, Baggett said.
“It made us look a little more closely at some of the ways we’re teaching and making sure we look at standards,” he said. “We made some great gains last year and met all of our goals for API, which was one of the biggest gains in the county.”
The standards also focus exclusively on mathematics and English-language arts, when there are other important subjects that should be prioritized as well, Baggett said.
The sanction also limits funding and flexibility, which provides a challenge.
“It hamstrings us with funding because we have to hold 25 percent in case someone wants to go to a different school and we can’t touch that money until the end of the school year, but by then you’re planning for next year,” Baggett said. “It’s a little bit frustrating. There are some good parts to it, but it does tie your hands in a lot of different areas.”
No legislative movement as
The program improvement sanctions will become a national dilemma if No Child Left Behind is not altered or reauthorized soon, because of its requirement that all schools be at 100 percent proficiency by 2013-14.
The 100 percent proficiency goal is perceived to be a nice target, but highly unrealistic, by many administrators.
Rather than impose sanctions, Fredrickson suggested that schools be given data, expectations and resources with realistic goals.
“We’ve actually had to hire more people at the management level to manage all the paperwork when those resources could have been used in the classroom,” he said.
“If they would have left the politics out of it, it could have been clean. It had good intentions and we do want all children to learn and be proficient, that’s a given, but it’s unrealistic.”
Currently, 47 states have applied for a waiver, which prevents program improvement sanctions.
California cannot qualify because it does not tie teacher evaluations to student progress, said Nevada County Superintendent of schools Holly Hermansen.
According to the California Department of Education website, a group of California school districts known as the CORE districts have applied for a waiver.
The federal government has not been able to renew No Child Left Behind or create a new education plan since 2007.
“I don’t think (the reauthorization) is going to happen in this year,” Hermansen said.
“When you talk to legislators, they are working on a lot of things, so it’s just a challenging time. There’s no deadline to get to it, but it stays in place until they do. It’s a matter of Congress having a bill come forward.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.