Schools may face No Child penalty

If federal test scores do not show improvement, some grade schools must allow students to transfer.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:38 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Five of Columbia’s 19 elementary schools — Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge, Eugene Field, Parkade and West Boulevard — face sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act if new state test scores expected out this week do not show improvement from 2003.

Under the act, any school that does not meet yearly state testing goals for two consecutive years in the same subject must offer parents the option of transferring their children to better-performing schools. This will be the first year that school transfers could be required under the act in Missouri.

About half of local schools fell short of meeting test-score goals in at least one subject area of the Missouri Assessment Program. Of those, however, only five are facing possible sanctions because they accept federal Title I funds for low-income student populations.

In 2003, Blue Ridge did not meet state goals in both reading and math, the two subjects tracked under the No Child Left Behind Act. Blue Ridge faces sanctions if either subject did not improve in 2004.

At Blue Ridge Elementary, teachers and administrators embarked upon several strategies to raise test scores.

Blue Ridge Principal Tim Majerus said a detailed analysis of past test results was performed last year to determine where students could use the most improvement.

“We have always been focused on doing our best on the MAP test,” Majerus said. “I hope that we are becoming smarter about how to accomplish that, and analyzing that data and breaking it down into subgroups is certainly something that I think will help.”

Blue Ridge also instituted a vertical teaching system to review schoolwide curriculum. Vertical teaming involves grouping teachers from all grades to scrutinize the curriculum and fill in any gaps across grade levels. It’s a strategy also used at Derby Ridge Elementary, which faces sanctions if test results show its math scores did not improve in 2004.

Derby Ridge began offering tutoring for small groups and individual students the past spring, Assistant Principal Tina Windett said. Principals from several schools said they stressed general test-preparation skills.

The MAP is given in April to elementary, middle and high school students.

Schools that fall short on test scores and receive sanctions are supposed to start transferring students immediately. According to the law, parents should receive notice of this option two weeks before the new school year — but Missouri test scores will not be released in time to meet that requirement in many districts, including Columbia. The U.S. Department of Education is allowing some leeway for states like Missouri that encounter test-related delays. Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Missouri’s plan for enacting No Child Left Behind requirements has been approved by the federal department of education.

“According to the law, we’re supposed to have our data back and parents notified before school starts, but given Missouri’s testing, that’s near impossible,” Morris said. “We’re doing the best we can to work within the framework of the law.”

School districts will be expected to pay for the transportation of students who qualify for school transfers out of their federal Title I funds. The federal department of education provides Title I money to help educate low-income students. Only those schools that accept Title I funds are subject to sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act.

State and local school officials said they have no estimates on how many students may choose to transfer or how much No Child Left Behind sanctions will cost this year. The district has budgeted some money for possible sanctioned transfers, said Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education at Columbia Public Schools.

The 2004 test results will be considered preliminary until Oct. 15, giving school officials time to review their scores and contest any perceived inaccuracies, Morris said. Parents of children at affected schools who are interested in the transfers might have to wait until results become official.

“We’re going to encourage districts to proceed with the (school) choice option if it applies to them, but they will not be technically required to do that until they have the official determinations after Oct. 15,” Morris said.

Jensen said the Columbia district has set up procedures in case any of its five potentially affected schools do not meet adequate yearly progress again this year. Those procedures include informing parents of their child’s school options, giving out transfer applications, reviewing applications and making school placements, he said. Schools are not required by law to accept transfer students unless there is space available. Jensen said it usually takes about two weeks for the district to review and process school transfers — they already handle about 200 transfers for other reasons every year.

Parents could find themselves asking whether it’s beneficial to transfer students to new schools after the start of the school year.

“Each parent has to look at their individual situation and make that judgment,” Jensen said. “We have parents that have to make that judgment for some things other than annual yearly progress. The other thing I think you have to realize is the majority of our schools have results that are at least equal to or better than the state averages, and not meeting adequate yearly progress — there are a number of ways that can happen, and it is not always reflective of a lack of an academic program.”

There are two ways for school officials to appeal if preliminary results show their school faces sanctions. The most common has to do with the way in which students are classified, Morris said. For testing purposes, the No Child Left Behind Act specifies student scores be subdivided by race, low-income and language-proficiency status. A school may be labeled “failing” if just one of those smaller groups does not meet yearly testing goals in either subject.

Less common, he said, is for a school to request that all their tests be rescored, a process that could take much longer. In past years, few have requested a complete rescoring of the tests, he said.

Columbia schools will consider both options when reviewing test results, Jensen said. The district will want to review results thoroughly to make sure there were no inaccuracies before determining which schools should be required to offer transfers, he said. They will be working closely with school officials to review and interpret the data.

The reason it takes so long to get new test results is because of the way MAP tests are designed and scored. Several test questions ask students to “show their work,” meaning electronic scoring is impossible, said Walt Brown, the Missouri education department’s director of assessment. The state has worked to increase the speed of MAP scoring; Brown said this year’s results are expected out 10 days earlier than previous years.

“I don’t anticipate that we can improve upon that without jeopardizing the type of test that we’re offering,” he said.

There has been discussion about testing students earlier in the year, but that would require a complete restructuring of the test to reflect only half a year’s worth of curriculum — a large and costly project, Brown said.

Yet without changes to the way the MAP tests are taken and scored, parents may encounter the same delays with No Child Left Behind sanctions next year.

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