NCLB: Hoover school needs help
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · September 06, 2013

Results of state testing of Hoover Elementary pupils determined it did not make federally required “adequate yearly improvement” and, for the coming school year, will join the list of “Schools In Need of Assistance.”

However, Superintendent Kevin Hatfield, said he wants more rigor in the curriculum, said the school did well nonetheless since it is unlikely many Iowa schools were able to get 100 percent of pupils meeting Iowa’s standards.

“I would love to get to 100 percent,” he said, “but most experts have said (schools) could not get to that by 2014.”

No Child Left Behind has been tracking school improvement since the 2002-03 school year. Under NCLB, each state set goals for what percentage of pupils in each school must be proficient in reading and math, based on the state’s own standards. From that point to 2013-14, the minimum was supposed to increase to 100 percent.

Iowa, for example, said that fourth-graders must be 64 percent proficient in reading in 2002-03, which increased to 75 percent in 2005-06, then worked its way up to 100 percent in 2013-14, the current school year.

West Branch had stayed ahead of the rising bar for the first nine years of the 12-year law, but did not meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP, last year. NCLB assumes that school scores could dip, so it is not until scores are below the minimum for two years in a row that they get added to the SINA list.

In 2010-11, West Branch was about equal with the “annual measurable objective” set by NCLB, which was 82 percent proficient in reading and 81 percent proficient in math in fourth grade.

However, that federal minimum rose to 88 percent for reading and 87.3 percent for math in 2011-12, and the percent of West Branch fourth graders proficient in reading was 81.03 percent and math was 81.14 percent. That was the first year the school was cited for not making AYP.

Last year, in 2012-13, the federal minimum rose again, requiring 94 percent of fourth graders to be proficient in reading standards and 93.7 percent proficient in math standards. West Branch scores dropped to 75.21 in reading and 74.36 in math. As it was the second year in a row for missing the federal minimums, Hoover Elementary was added to the SINA list.

On Aug. 27, the school district sent letters to parents explaining the SINA status.

The letter, from both Hatfield and Hoover Principal Jess Burger, points out that NCLB law allows parents to ask that their child be moved to another school within the school district, but the letter then notes that there is no other grade school to move to.

“Please know that the SINA designation refers to federal criteria,” reads the letter. “We remain a fully accredited school in complete compliance with the State of Iowa regulation and our proficiency scores remain slightly ahead of the State of Iowa proficiency averages.”

According to the Iowa Department of Education, there are 1,501 public schools in Iowa, and nearly a third of them — 496 — had been added to the SINA list as of the 2012-13 school year.

The IDOE has yet to publish the 2013-14 SINA list, but Hatfield said he expects that number to jump significantly.

Hatfield said that while West Branch’s scores did drop, some people think that scores must have dropped for a school to get on the SINA list, while in actuality the minimum is increasing faster than many schools can improve.

But the 2013-14 school year is the last year for NCLB, so other than the SINA designation and some required assistance from the IDOE, mostly in the form of tutoring help, West Branch will feel very little impact.

Schools that have been on the SINA list for five years, however, will lose federal Title I funding. Had that happened to West Branch, Hatfield said the school would have lost about $15,000.

Hatfield said the federal legislation that eventually replaces NCLB can build on the strengths and weaknesses of what was a bipartisan law. Both the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate have passed their own rewrites of NCLB, but neither chamber seems willing to pass the other’s bill. The top bill under negotiation is Race To The Top.

Hatfield said NCLB gives too much weight to annual, standardized tests. Hatfield believes the tests serve as a good “snapshot,” and are worth consideration, but thinks several other factors should be considered to better assess school quality.

He compares annual tests to blood pressure.

“If I took my blood pressure once a year, what statistical factor (is it) to predicting health?” he said. “(A single test) can’t be the sole judge of students in a classroom.”

For example, he would like the law to consider “cohort groups,” following the same group of children up through the grades to see how they progress. He would also like to see a bill measure ingenuity — a pupil’s ability to not just remember facts, but to figure out problems with higher-order thinking skills.

NCLB also requires two years of progress for schools to get off the SINA list, which Hatfield said can hurt morale.

“A few staff are down on it because of the label,” he said.

Hatfield said that about 80 percent of children can learn the material from the most common teaching practices, while about 15 to 18 percent can “get it” through a secondary attempt, and 3 to 5 percent need more serious intervention.

West Branch schools is trying to address that by reviewing test scores, designating one teacher in that grade to reteach the lesson in another way, and sending the underperforming pupils to that teacher to help them get caught up, he said.

He said this flexible teaching model does help because teachers know which secondary teaching methods are statistically more effective because education experts have measured them.

The superintendent notes that one of the downsides to NCLB is that it can only tell a school who is falling behind — it can’t tell how far those pupils are behind and it can’t tell schools how to bring them back up. He said NCLB only confirms what schools already know.

“People may ask: How could you let them fail?” Hatfield said. “But we need to know: How far away from the standard IS that kid?”

West Branch “definitely does not want to teach to the test,” the superintendent said.

“But, if anything, NLCB made us more thoughtful, more mindful, to use the data we do have correctly,” he said.

Hatfield said that efforts to help children achieve has led to personnel changes as well. He said underperforming teachers have been fired in the past two years, but he has “no worries” that the remaining teachers are working very hard to get pupils to succeed.

“Ten years from now, I’d like people to be less cynical of how kids are trying to improve,” he said. “That (they know) we’re trying hard.”

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