School officials in Mercer County not happy with mandate

November 17, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG If you ask school officials in Mercer County their opinions on No Child Left Behind, be ready for an earful.

They are not happy, and there are several reasons:

* There are no national standards. Standards for efficiency are different state to state.

* Kentucky's standards are set higher than many others.

* One failure can fail an entire school or district.

* Kentucky scores are based on CATS scores, but the results are not the same.

The federal program decides if a school or school district is making "adequate yearly progress." Mercer County schools have been deemed an Exemplary District in Commonwealth Accountability Testing System results along with 21 other districts in the state, yet No Child Left Behind data indicates the district did not make the progress required by the program.

"I asked the (state) Department of Education, 'How do we explain to the staff, let alone the parents, that we are an exemplary district, but we did not meet our standards?,'" said Mike Barnard, assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and federal programs at Mercer County schools.


"It's unfair."

Richard Webb, Burgin's superintendent, says many educators across the state are frustrated. One negative score in one area can unfairly list a school as failing to make the necessary progress. "Suppose you and I work for the same company and we are trying to get perfect attendance awards. According to No Child Left Behind scores, if you miss a day and I don't, not only do you not get an award; I don't get one either."

Of all the districts in the state, only 25 had all yeses, while 151 had at least one no, Webb said.

Harrodsburg Superintendent H.M. Snodgrass was contacted last week at a meeting of a committee established to advise the Kentucky Board of Education. "The thing that troubles me most is the inconsistency in standards across the nation.

"If the federal government was going to put an accountability system into place, they should have required there be a uniform standard," Snodgrass said during a break of a State Curriculum and Assessment Advisory Committee.

"If one component fails to meet the criteria set by the state in regard to AYP, then the whole school fails to meet it," Snodgrass said.

And then there is the mountain of data presented to school systems several times a year. "We are overwhelmed by data," Webb said. "We are to a point that we have data overload and we're not able to use any of it as it was intended."

Judging schools is not the best way to teach individual children, Webb maintains. "It should focus on the child and not the school," he said.

"It should be called No Child Left Untested," he said. Asked if all the test results result in teaching the test, Webb said, "I think nobody wants to admit it, but that's what happens. We're teaching the test and it narrows the curriculum."

Webb said all of the subgroups and the various categories judged in No Child Left Behind make it difficult to determine the needs of the students.

Included in the standards are issues like attendance, dropout rates and graduation rates, along with various groups. The groups include girls versus boys, students who receive free or reduced lunches versus those that pay the full amount, students with European, African or Eastern ancestries and Hispanic children.

Burgin is too small for it to have significant numbers based on the subgroups accounted for in large schools.

"Did you know that if a child dies, we have to count (the loss of the child) as a dropout?" he said. "That's why it's hard to take this seriously."

A key facet of No Child Left Behind is the 2014 deadline for all children, including those with special needs, to reach the same level of proficiency.

Asked if special needs children will meet the proficiency standards by 2014, Snodgrass would only reply, "That is an excellent question."

"I don't see how, unless changes are made," Webb said. "We certainly won't make it if we don't have the funds for the resources to help those children. Unless we're funded to provide those resources, we can't make it."

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