Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar & Iowa City Make NCLB Needs Assistance List
By Meryn Fluker, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Twenty-eight Iowa school districts -- including the Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar and Iowa City community school districts -- are in need of assistance according to the state's 2012 No Child Left Behind Report Card, released Friday morning.
Those designations are based on student performance on the Iowa Assessments, a series of exams for learners in grades three through eight and high school juniors. This is the first year students took these tests, in reading and math, which replaced the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Iowa Tests of Educational Development.
The Linn-Mar district is in its first year of "delay status" in math, which means students did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress last year but showed growth this year. Iowa City, which has been in need of assistance for six years in both math and reading, also earned Delay status this year, a move Curriculum Director Pam Ehly called "positive." The Cedar Rapids district made strides in math, reaching Delay status after five years of missing the mark, but remains in need of assistance for the seventh year in reading.
"There’s a lot of ways to get on the list and not very many ways to not be on the list," said Dave Benson, superintendent of the Cedar Rapids district.
Across the state, 28 districts are listed as in need of assistance for not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks in math and reading. That's down from 30 districts on the list last year. Students in grades three through eight and high school juniors are tested annually in the two subjects with the goal of all learners reaching proficiency by 2014, in accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks increase annually toward that 100 percent proficiency goal and results are measured in various ethnic, socioeconomic and educational subgroups. If not enough students in one or more subgroups meet proficiency for two consecutive years in the same subject, the school or district is deemed as "in need of assistance." If that school or district receives federal Title I dollars, used to assist students in lower-income families, it can face an array of consequences including implementing school choice for students. If students demonstrate enough growth for two years in a row, the school or district will be removed from the list.
Statewide, 58 percent of public schools fell short of Adequate Yearly Progress this year, an increase of over 20 percent from 2011. This year, 17 percent of school districts missed the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark, a 6-percent hike from last year.
Iowa received a one-year reprieve from the increased No Child Left Behind targets, but the state was not successful in securing a waiver from the program earlier this year. Jason Glass, director of the state department of education, is continuing to pursue exemption from the law for state schools.
Ehly said not having to meet increased targets only "just minimally" helped the district reach Delay status this year. She attributed the growth to teachers getting adequate materials and professional development to better educate their students.
“I don’t know that I could single it towards one thing but clearly we have been working towards making sure the students have the Common Core Standards taught to them ... We have worked really hard on making sure the teaching standards we enforce are research based and implemented with fidelity."
Ehly said those strides were made in order to help students and not with eyes fixed on improving the district's No Child Left Behind standing. Both she and Benson took issue with the current No Child Left Behind statute and its reliance on the Adequate Yearly Progress measures to define student success. Benson praised the system's attention to the differences in achievement among various subgroups but took issue with the law's "punitive nature."
“I think I would expect parents to understand that a single test on a single day is not indicative of the educational program of any school at any time," he said. "I think the district profile, which shows a lot of different characteristics of the schools, would be a better indicator."
Benson and Ehly both expressed favor for a model that gauges student growth instead of comparing different groups of students to each other and demanding improvement.
"On one level, you do need to look at whole levels of groups of kids," Ehly said. "When there’s such high stakes and you’re comparing two different groups of children, it’s just not very logical.”
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