FCAT Grades and AYP Status, Hernando County Schools
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act has stamped modern American education with the mark of mediocrity. In mandating that all school districts in the nation live up to a set of standards or lose important Title 1 funding for their disadvantaged schools, and by imposing sanctions that are draconian in their effects, the federal government is imposing the will of Congress on the choices of parents. In addition, the dissonant requirement that states set their own standards creates disparity of a magnitude unimaginable before the federal government decided to intrude into this most important, not to say intimate, local issue between children, parents and those who are entrusted to educate those children. The effect of the NCLB act is, so far, to encourage a lowering of standards -- a march toward educational mediocrity -- in the service of satisfying federal demands that are counterproductive at best, destructive of American education at worst. Title 1 funding may be important to many schools nationwide, and it is important to some Hernando County schools. But what is more important is the quality of education, not the calculation of test scores, particularly in light of the all-or-nothing character of assessment for NCLB passing or failing grades. Before the situation becomes desperate, a solution is offered here, based on some of the best educational writing locally and nationally, to opt out of a lose-lose situation before irreparable harm is done. In addition, Congress should be lobbied to repeal the act so that no district in the nation need suffer the intrusion, and the extreme sanctions, imposed by the NCLB.
Seven out of ten Hernando County elementary schools earned A ratings on Florida's 2004 school grades released in early June, 2004. At three of those schools, students also managed to make the required AYP, adequate yearly progress, according to the federal No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). (Bacon 2004) Of all the county's schools, 18 of 20 did not meet the standard, although just seven will face the consequences mandated by NCLB, mainly because " Congress imposed its rules only on those schools that receive significant federal funding, the Title I program for low-income campuses" (Solocheck 2004).
At the county's middle schools, the federally mandated 'ratings game' played out particularly badly. Only three out of all the county's middle schools met the AYP, although only one, Deltona Elementary, is a Title 1 school. In addition, five other county schools that receive Title 1 funding must allow their students to transfer to a better performing school because they failed to meet their AYP for a second year. (Bacon 2004)
That situation, without embellishment, is dire enough. Transporting children to schools farther from their homes is costly. Parents don't like it. It would also stand to reason that at least some of any gains the student experienced from attending the 'better' school might be lost in travel fatigue and stress caused by leaving familiar classmates, teachers and neighborhood. In short, the quality of life costs of this portion of NCLB stand to be substantial.
But worse still is that the county was hoisted on its own petard, or rather, a combination of its petard and that of Gov. Jeb Bush (leaving out entirely for the moment the governor's brother.) Because the NCLB allows states to set their own standards for achievements to be measured under NCLB, and Florida's is set relatively high (Governor Bush made that call), more of its students will fail to meet AYP than will the students in states that set very low standards for AYP. (Bacon 2004) Moreover, the state's own FCAT scores would lead observers to believe that the state's schools were, in fact, making progress toward better education. (Bacon, 2004)
In addition to the very cogent educational issues involved with NCLB, and the distressing life quality issues, there are also the funding issues. NCLB is a federal mandate without federal funding by and large; estimates put budget increases needed to cope with all the aspects of NCLB as high as 24% (Schrag 2004, 38+).
It is clear that Hernando County schools are in a distressing position regarding NCLB, and that some workable solutions must be found or the education of children in the county. This report proposes to find a workable solution by thoroughly researching the possibilities under NCLB and those external to it.
First, the report will present Hernando County statistics, and comments and concerns of Hernando County education officials and other concerned parties. Second, it will review the literature regarding both problems with and solutions to problems with NCLB. Third, it will make a recommendation for how Hernando County can best proceed to serve its student/parent population.
Hernando County's Current NCLB Situation
Hernando County experienced significant failures in terns of AYP in its middle schools, and officials were looking for explanations. One, the assistant principal at Fox Chapel Middle School, said a large amount of teacher turnover may have contributed to the lower grade. In addition, he noted that the population of the school had also changed. It had become a Title 1 school "with 50 percnet of our students on free or reduced lunch." (Bacon 2004)
Worse news was that even adding extra resource teachers, which might help, would be problematical, as the school has no room for them. But that could be a moot point if, in fact, a large number of students chose to transfer to better-performing schools, something NCLB gives them the right to do at any school that fails two years in a row. In fact, 60 students have already chosen to change schools next fall. (Bacon 2004) Under the NCLB at, "Title 1 schools must offer school choice if their subgroups -- whether poor, learning disabled, black, Hispanic or of limited English skills -- fail to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years" (Bacon 2004). The NCLB law states that priority in school choice be given to the lowest-achieving children from low-income families, "and that they be allowed to select from among schools not identified as needing improvement under No Child Left Behind" (Solocheck). NCLB also states that the school district must offer at least two choices for transfer (Solocheck 2004), but in a district with the vast majority of schools failing, such as this one, the problem for school administrators then becomes how to offer two choices that are not for equally 'non-performing' schools. Hernando did not "want to give choices that would have youngsters taking lengthy bus rides across the count" (Solocheck 2004), doubtless for both fiscal and family reasons.
Under the NCLB act, it is not enough for a school to meet its AYP in most areas; it must meet them in all or fail. This is the explanation for a district having an overall 90% rate of meeting AYP, and yet have specific schools fail and even risk loss of Title 1 funding. Following is a table of the grades of Hernando County Schools in 2003 and 3004, and a Yes or No for meeting their AYP in 2004:
FCAT Grades and AYP Status, Hernando County Schools
SCHOOL GRADE/2003 GRADE/2004 AYP
Brooksville AB No
Chocachatti AA Yes
Eastside AA No
Source: Hernando Today.com/Bacon 2004
In some respects, the results look a lot worse than they really are. Some schools failed to meet AYP because they had inadequate number of students tested in one or more of the nine subgroups. Some schools that ordinarily perform well failed to meet the NCLB standards simply because of the federal accountability formula that mandates that 95% of all students in each subgroup in each grade must be tested. For example, Hernando Elementary, which serves only kindergarten through second grade students, failed because only 94% of he special education students were tested in reading and language, and only 92% in mathematics, falling short of the mandated 95%. (Long 2004) Similarly, Oak Grove Central failed to meet the 2003 AYP because of similarly non-compliance in testing percentages in the same areas. In addition, tests were given in one instance "but some were not scored due to a procedural error" (Long 2004). "If even one group fails, the entire school fails" (Solocheck 2004)
AYP also measures improvement of students from one grade level to the next, such as from second to third grades. In the schools tested, none of the third grades have assistants because the Florida Department of Education had decided several years ago that kindergarten though second grade should have assistants; this required all the available funding. However, new school equity funding at…