Twelve schools in El Dorado County are in Program Improvement status — and there will be more. According to reports on the California Department of Education Website, 3,856 out of almost 10,000 California schools are now in Program Improvement status as of the 2011-2012 academic year.
“We have been forced to label 63 percent of Title 1 schools and 47 percent of districts receiving Title I funds as needing improvement and to apply sanctions that do not necessarily lead to improved learning for the students in those schools,” wrote State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
Program Improvement status is a consequence for schools who fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. NCLB is the newest incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law’s original intention in 1965 was to improve educational equity for students from lower income families by providing federal funds to school districts serving poor students. Schools receiving federal funds are identified as Title I schools. In order for a school to make adequate yearly progress it must meet its targets for student reading and math proficiency each year. And each year the targets increase.
By 2014, NCLB requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure that all students are proficient in grade-level math and reading by 2014. Not most of them, but all of them. As the AYP standards increase to 77 percent proficiency in the current school year and 100 percent in the following year, educators feel that more and more schools will fail to make the AYP, even when the students demonstrate growth.
Schools failing to meet the target proficiency for two consecutive years are put into school Program Improvement status, which requires action, including allowing students to transfer to schools not in PI status. Schools failing to make AYP for three years are identified for corrective action and for a fourth year are identified for restructuring.
El Dorado County Office of Education’s deputy superintendent of education services, Jeremy Meyers, said, “The most important thing is to show growth. There is a stark contrast between what the STAR test results and the Academic Performance Index (API), which is a growth model, show, and what the AYP shows.”
California educators see a disconnect between the academic growth shown by students on the API and the STAR tests given in grades 2-11, and the federal expectations of proficiency achievement for NCLB. They aren’t the only ones.
In a 2011 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, more than 16 percent of all public schools nationwide and 28 percent of Title 1 schools were in Program Improvement status in the 2009-2010 academic year. Some states like Nevada and Florida and the region of the District of Columbia have as much as 80 percent of their schools in PI status, while others like Alabama, Nebraska, Kansas and Utah have less than 5 percent of their schools in PI status.
As have many other states, California has requested a waiver of the ESEA, No Child Left Behind provisions, to exempt California schools in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson sent a letter requesting the waiver to Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, and asking that the practice of over-identifying schools and districts for Program Improvement end; that districts be given greater spending flexibility to increase student achievement and that a transition to a single, transparent accountability system instead of two conflicting accountability systems take place.
California’s state accountability and assessment measures are ranked one of the highest in the nation.
The No Child Left Behind Act sunsets in 2014, but reauthorization of the act has been expected for some time.The Obama administration proposed a blueprint for reforming NCLB in 2010, but Congressional focus was elsewhere and so the act has remained unchanged.
At a February press conference President Obama said, “I said back then the goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones. Standards and accountability — those are the right goals. Closing the achievement gap, that’s a good goal. That’s the right goal. We’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures. That doesn’t help anybody. It certainly doesn’t help our children in the classroom.”
At least 10 states have already received waivers authorizing flexibility in their use of federal Title I funds, but others were waiting for a reform of the act itself.
“We thought the reauthorization would already happen by now,” said Chris Hoffman, superintendent of the El Dorado Union High School District at a recent EDHUSD board meeting. “But it hasn’t and there are a lot of school districts throughout the state that have had to focus money and time on corrective actions instead of education.”
One of the district’s alternative high schools, Vista, is in Year One PI status and two other high schools, El Dorado and Union Mine may go into PI status this October despite record student growth.
“Individual districts can request a waiver as well and I am working together with Christopher Moore (EDUHSD assistant superintendent of education services) to request a waiver if we have to go into Program Improvement status,” said Hoffman. “The amount of work the staff put into helping our targeted groups achieve growth was tremendous and they did it. We don’t consider our schools failing.”