Almost one-third of all public schools in Connecticut fell short of federal standards and landed Thursday on an academic warning list - a number that is expected to grow even larger as the standards continue to get tougher, state officials said.
Although a few schools improved enough to get off the annual list, officials said that it will be increasingly difficult for schools to avoid being cited in the future as states ratchet up reading and mathematics goals to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In Connecticut, the targets this year call for between 68 percent and 74 percent of students to meet proficiency standards on state reading and math tests. But those targets will gradually increase to 100 percent by 2014 under the federal law - a moving goal that many educators believe is unrealistic.
"Regrettably, the bar is moving up faster than we can accelerate our schools," state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said. "Eventually, all schools and all districts will be in a position in need of improvement."
Still, the latest warning list - along with the results of a statewide test of high school sophomores that were also released Thursday - highlights the need to shakeup low-performing schools, McQuillan said.
More than half of the state's 10th-graders missed the goals on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, and about one-fifth fell into the "basic" and "below basic" categories, the lowest levels on the test.
The test scores were consistent with earlier results, including serious lags in achievement among low-income and minority students, another reason to re-examine the state's high schools, McQuillan said.
"High school reforms are very much on our agenda," said McQuillan, who expects to receive recommendations this fall from a State Board of Education committee on high school reforms, possibly including new coursework and some form of exit exam required for graduation.
Pressure for reform both in Connecticut and nationally is coming from No Child Left Behind, the 5-year-old law that is the centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda. It calls for a shake-up of public schools that fail to make adequate progress on state tests.
Of Connecticut's 805 public elementary and middle schools, 265 failed to make adequate progress this year, down from 290 a year ago.
Of 182 public high schools, 50 fell short, 10 more than in 2006.
Many were cited for low reading and math performance schoolwide, but a school can also be cited if even one group of students - such as members of a minority group, special education students or children with limited English-speaking ability - fails to meet the standards.
Schools that are on the warning list for two or more consecutive years are subject to sanctions. The longer a school is on the list, the greater the sanctions - up to a complete reorganization or makeover, including changing of staff and curriculum.
Some schools already have made substantial reforms. Among them is Jumoke Academy, a Hartford charter school that met federal goals for the second year in a row and, as a result, was one of only eight schools to be removed from a list of schools targeted for improvement under the federal law.
Jumoke had significant improvement over several years after extending the school day, adding Saturday and summer school classes and hiring more experienced teachers, said Michael Sharpe, the school's chief executive officer.
Still, it won't be easy to stay off the government list, he said.
"It's very difficult," he said. "While you're working to get your kids up to a certain point ... the [standard] increases."
Nevertheless, Sharpe said that No Child Left Behind has forced schools to pay attention to children who need the most help.
"The basic goal has been good for America," he said.
McQuillan said that as more schools land on the warning list, the state will have to decide where to put its resources. He said that the plan is to focus mainly on the neediest districts and schools.
He said that his department already plans to work closely with 12 low-performing school districts that have been on the No Child Left Behind warning list for five years in a row. They are Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, East Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, New London, Norwich, Waterbury, Windham, Norwalk and Middletown.
McQuillan, under a new state law, has the authority to step into troubled school districts. The law allows the state to order steps such as full-day kindergarten, summer school, tutoring or longer school days and school years.
In the most serious cases, the state could order the transfer of principals and teachers or even take control of schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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