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More Schools Face Sanctions; A Few Escape

September 7, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

The improvement at schools such as Bristol Central High School was particularly significant because it came in a year when officials raised the benchmark for meeting the law's requirements.

"Getting off the list is a lot more difficult than getting on the list," said Dennis Siegmann, principal at Bristol Central, where officials eliminated low-level classes, revamped the curriculum to align with state standards and provided extra help for struggling students.

After being on the warning list in 2003 and 2004, Bristol Central made sufficient progress this year, as did more than 70 percent of the state's 181 public high schools.

But 51 schools - about 28 percent - failed to have enough students reach the proficiency level on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, an annual test of high school sophomores. Last year, 42 high schools were cited.

No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda, calls for a shake-up of schools that don't make adequate progress. A school or a district can be cited if even one group of students - such as members of a minority group, special education students or non-English-speaking children - fails to meet standards.

Tuesday's report by the state Department of Education also said:

Although some of the 51 high schools were listed because specific groups, such as special education students, failed to meet standards, 32 schools were cited because too many students overall fell short on reading, mathematics or both subjects.

Six high schools were listed as needing improvement for the third consecutive year - a designation that requires strong steps such as a revamping curriculums or replacing teachers or administrators at schools that receive federal Title I money. The six schools are Bassick and Harding in Bridgeport, Weaver and Prince Technical in Hartford, Goodwin Technical in New Britain and Wright Technical in Stamford. Bassick and Harding do not receive Title I funds.

Twenty-six schools, cited as needing improvement for the second consecutive year, will be required to offer free tutoring services to students.

State education officials also identified 30 of the state's 171 school districts as failing to make adequate progress under No Child Left Behind. That was an improvement over last year, when 43 school systems were cited. The list consists chiefly of the state's urban districts, which have struggled for years with high poverty rates and low overall test scores. A district can be cited when its high schools, along with elementary or middle schools, fail to make adequate progress.

Officials predict that the warning list will grow dramatically over the next several years as standards for No Child Left Behind grow tougher. By 2014, the law will require 100 percent of students to score at proficient levels in reading and math on state tests. This year, the standard was set at about 70 percent.

"If the rules don't change ... then I expect there will be more schools on the list," said state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg, who contends that the law's requirements - especially regarding special education students and children who speak little or no English - are unfair.

"In the end, the amount of energy and time we're spending to pump out these lists really does concern me," she said.

Last month, Connecticut became the first state to file a lawsuit challenging the law, contending that it will cost state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The U.S. Department of Education disputes that claim and says the law has put pressure on schools to raise achievement.

At Bristol Central, test scores rose after officials dropped the low-track classes and challenged students and teachers to focus on academic skills, said Siegmann, the principal.

"Athletically, we've won state championships, league championships," said Siegmann, a former wrestling coach. "Why can't we do it academically?"

He said some of the students who would have been assigned to low-track classes "have 3.0 [grade point] averages and are certainly going to go on to college."

Even among schools that remained on the warning list, some showed marked improvement on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

"We went up in everything," said Hector Sanchez, principal at Bridgeport's Harding High, where 45 percent of 10th-graders were judged proficient in math, for example - up from 30 percent a year ago.

"It still doesn't cut the mustard, but the [upward] trend is there," he said.

The school has hired dozens of new teachers and administrators, started Saturday classes to help students brush up for the state exam and enforced a strong code of discipline and respect, he said.

"We should be producing a better product and should be held accountable," Sanchez said. But, he added, "The social ills we deal with are not created in school. They are city issues. ... I have no control over people not having jobs, or parents having to work three or four jobs. The gangs I can take care of in the [school] building, but I can't take care of what happens over the weekend."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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