Pressure rises to reach 'No Child Left Behind' goals

Posted Oct. 21, 2008, at 8:08 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine students and teachers will be under increasing pressure to improve their assessment scores as the targets established under the No Child Left Behind law become more demanding in the coming years.

Under the law, all grade three through eight elementary pupils and grade 11 high school students will need to reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and mathematics by the 2013-14 school year.

With the current year’s Adequate Yearly Progress requirement at 58 percent for elementary school and 64 percent for high school proficiency in reading and 43 percent in math for both grade groups, schools and teachers have just five years to prepare their charges for 100 percent proficiency.

Like many states, Maine established lower benchmarks in its Adequate Yearly Progress requirements to give schools and students an opportunity to get acclimated to annual testing. Over the first six years of the No Child law, a majority of Maine students have managed to hit the proficiency rating established by the Department of Education. Maintaining that mark over the next five years may prove more difficult.

“The problem was that when it started it was something new, and we needed to give schools a couple of years to adapt to a new system, put the system in place, work out the kinks and show progress,” Department of Education communications director David Connerty-Marin said. “Now we have to make much more significant progress at the end, and that’s the trajectory where we are going.”

The benchmark for yearly progress in reading for grades three through eight is 66 percent next year, 75 percent in 2011, 83 percent in 2012, 92 percent in 2013 and 100 percent in 2014. For math, students will have to reach 55 percent proficiency next year, 66 percent in 2011, 77 percent in 2012, 89 percent in 2013 and 100 percent in 2014.

For grade 11, the proficiency level in reading is 71 percent next year, 78 percent in 2011, 86 percent in 2012, 93 percent in 2013 and 100 percent in 2014. For math, students will have to reach 54 percent proficiency next year, 66 percent in 2011, 77 percent in 2012, 89 percent in 2013 and 100 percent in 2014.

“The real question is not the trajectory, but how do we get as close to 100 percent as possible,” Connerty-Marin said Tuesday. “No matter how you slice it, the question is: How do you get there? One way to get there is to lower the standards, and there are states that have done that. We don’t consider that to be an option.”

Connerty-Marin acknowledged that when the proficiency levels were established by the state, the school of thought was that Congress would revise the law to give states more time to reach the goals when the measure came up for reauthorization in 2007. That never happened, however, and it could be two or three years before reauthorization is addressed, he said.

“Obviously we would be supportive of some change in the reauthorization to make it more realistic and more forgiving, but still rigorous,” he said.

Under the law, schools that fail to reach their Adequate Yearly Progress are placed on a special watch list. If they remain on the list in succeeding years, they can be declared an underperforming school and be penalized.

Penalties can range from bringing in outside experts as advisers for the school to replacing staff who are considered the reason the school is not showing adequate progress.

Of Maine’s 632 schools, about 17 percent were on the list last year.

“You can pretty much guarantee that every school is going to be on the list at least once by 2014,” Connerty-Marin said. “The reality is, over the next few years quite a few schools, including those we consider at the top of the heap, are going to land on that list.”

Along with test scores, schools also must show Adequate Yearly Progress in average daily attendance and their high school graduation rate. Grade school attendance for 2009 is 91 percent and must reach 96 percent by 2014. This year’s high school graduation rate is 66 percent, and it must reach 75 percent by 2014.

“We have a trajectory to meet, but schools are showing progress,” Connerty-Marin said. “We support very much the concept that all students meet the standards, and all groups meet the standards, and all the subgroups meet the standards. It takes time to get a system started and get the teachers trained, but we are making progress.”

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