145 On 'No Child' List, But State Reluctant To Act
August 19, 2005
By CAROLYN MOREAU And RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writers
Even though 145 state schools failed to meet the requirements
of the No Child Left Behind Act this year, state education officials
say they are leery of being too harsh with sanctions.
While No Child Left Behind is notorious for the punitive actions that
can be used against schools and districts that don't show improvement -
including the ultimate state takeover of schools - the reality is that
state education officials don't want to be too hard on districts that are
The state Department of Education reported that 82 percent of elementary
and middle schools met federal standards this year.
The law aims to make children proficient in reading and math by 2014.
Schools are red-flagged if all students - including poor children, minorities
and special-education students - don't show enough progress in raising
standardized test scores.
Those who fail to meet the standard
in one year are labeled as not making adequate yearly progress. If a
school falls short of the standard the following year, the school gets
added to the list of being "in need of improvement." After
two years on this list, a school could face sanctions under federal
law, such as allowing parents to transfer their children to a different
school in the district.
But, in a sign that No Child Left Behind is perhaps not as unyielding
as it appears, state education officials said Thursday that the federal
government is now saying that schools won't be forced to allow transfers
if there is not enough space in the new school.
"They first came out and said that not having enough room is no excuse," said
Frances Rabinowitz, associate commissioner of education. "But frankly,
we have districts saying `Sorry, there is not enough room at the
Likewise, state education officials
say they are unsure how far the federal government expects states to
go in trying to enforce standards. "No
guidelines have come from the federal government," Rabinowitz said.
In any case, the state is reluctant
to employ the penalty of taking over a school or district for not meeting
standards under No Child Left Behind. Six schools, including two in Hartford,
are now in their fifth year of being on the "in need of improvement" list
for falling short of standards in reading or mathematics or both.
Some of these schools have already undergone
extensive voluntary changes in search of improvements. Bridgeport's Columbus
School, for instance, replaced nearly half its teaching staff, revamped
its reading curriculum and enlisted parents and others in an effort to
improve performance for the 2004-05 school year. The school remained
on the "in need of improvement" list
this year, but Rabinowitz said it was too early to expect big results.
"We will be carefully looking at 2006 results," Rabinowitz said. "It
does not mean if you replace the staff or the principal that everything
will automatically be OK."
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal
said that he plans to file a lawsuit next week claiming that some of
the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act are not properly funded,
as the law requires. And when the extra costs to cities and towns are
added to the amount the state will spend to cover the mandates, Blumenthal
said, the bill reaches into the "hundreds
School boards around the state have voted to endorse Blumenthal's action.
Hartford's board was the latest to endorse the measure when it passed a
resolution unanimously Tuesday.
Many schools were placed on the list
because one "subgroup" of
students failed to meet the standards - such as King Philip Middle School
in West Hartford, which for three consecutive years has failed to make "adequate
In a district of high-performing schools, the list carries a stigma, but
Board of Education Chairman Jack Darcey said it is hard for residents to
know what it really means.
"I worry that it gives a name to the school that is unfortunate," he
Darcey was not certain Thursday which
subgroup had failed to meet standards this year, but in the past two
years, special education students' scores had not met the state goal.
When Bristow Middle School opens in the district in the fall, he said,
the number of special education students at King Philip is likely to
drop below the "subgroup" threshold.
"I think it is rather strange,
because it could indicate to people that a school has made dramatic improvement,
but people do not realize just because you have fewer than 40 [students
in designated groups], you are home-free."
In Hartford, a closely watched district
because of its recent return to local control after years of state oversight,
20 of 32 elementary and middle schools were labeled "in need of improvement." Milner
and Kinsella Elementary schools landed on the list for the fifth year.
Hartford officials anticipated that Milner would remain on the list, and
Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry re-made the school for the second
time in two years by replacing the principal, designating lead teachers
in each grade and providing them with aides, and assigning math and literacy
coaches to the school.
The list revealed a mix of good and
bad news at other Hartford schools. For Dwight School, for example, meeting
the improvement goal is a crucial step if the federal government is to
name it as a "blue ribbon" school
in the fall. It met the goal.
But Annie Fisher Elementary School, one of the district's high-performing
schools, landed on the list for the first time - a blow to a school
that aspires to be a magnet school. Laverne Terry, deputy superintendent,
attributed the drop in student performance to a large turnover of teachers
and said the school's experience illustrates the need for stability.