Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Isle schools
fare the worst

A study puts state public schools
at the bottom compared
with the other states

Researchers and officials caution that
national comparisons are unreliable

Hawaii's public schools are at the bottom of the class nationally when it comes to living up to the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to a comparison of how states are faring under the controversial education law.

Hawaii's rank under
no child left behind law

States with the highest percentage of schools to be taken over and reformed in 2005-06 school year:

Hawaii: 8.5 percent
Georgia: 2.6 percent
Maryland: 2.1 percent
Michigan: 1.7 percent
Alabama: 1.5 percent

States with the highest percentage of schools facing takeover in 2006-07 if they fail on state tests now under way:

Hawaii: 9.2 percent
Montana: 3.1 percent
California: 3.1 percent
Maryland: 2.1 percent
New York: 2.1 percent

Source: Education Commission of the States

The study released by the nonprofit Education Commission of the States said Hawaii had the highest percentage of schools marked for state-directed takeover and reform -- No Child Left Behind's ultimate penalty.

Twenty-four schools, or 8.5 percent of Hawaii's 280 schools, have been targeted for managerial and curricular "restructuring" during the 2005-06 school year for repeatedly failing to meet annual performance targets on state math and reading tests.

The next-closest offender was Georgia, with 51 schools facing restructuring, 2.6 percent of that state's total, the study said.

The ECS bills the study as the first-ever such analysis on how each state's schools stack up in meeting the annual targets, known as Adequate Yearly Progress.

No Child Left Behind requires that a steadily rising percentage of students display proficiency in state math and reading standards. The benchmark rises to 100 percent of students by 2014.

If they fail, schools face sanctions that worsen each year. These begin in the first year by allowing students of underperforming schools to have priority in transferring to other schools. They culminate in restructuring in the fifth year.

But researcher Todd Ziebart, who compiled the ECS report, cautioned that state comparisons are unreliable due to a range of factors including widely varying levels of rigor on state tests and differences in how high the proficiency percentages are set.

He noted also that some states are moving to relax standards or already have done so, setting the stage for a confrontation with the federal government.

"There is definitely a difference in standards across the country. Some states have higher bars, and some are setting it relatively low," said Ziebart, an education policy analyst with Denver-based consultancy Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.

Hawaii's high negatives also are due in part to the state's relatively early start in implementing No Child Left Behind's sanctions system, he said.

Just 14 states have reached the point of having schools in restructuring status. Among the states that have not gotten that far are a number of Southern states that typically rank near the cellar in academic achievement, such as Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia.

"One of the factors that one shouldn't overlook is that we have stuck to the letter of the law in implementing No Child Left Behind," Assistant Superintendent Katherine Kawaguchi said. "We've made sure to maintain the integrity of it."

She added that there is "no standardization" in what states are testing students on.

"But what is happening is that even though there is no consistency, they are being lumped together and compared," she said.

While there is no way to compare the rigor of each state's annual tests, educators have complained about the rigor of the Hawaii Standards Assessment, particularly the math component.

Still, the ECS study can offer little comfort to state education officials.

Besides schools already identified for restructuring, Hawaii also has the highest percentage of schools that will face restructuring in 2006-07 if they fail to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress in the current round of testing now under way in local schools.

The study listed 23 Hawaii schools, or 8 percent of the state total, that fall into that category, compared with second-place Montana, with 28 schools, or 3 percent of the state total.

Hawaii also was second in the nation in percentage of schools now in the first year of sanctions, which allows priority school transfers. Twenty-six percent of Hawaii schools claimed that status, just behind Florida, with 27 percent.

But the numbers are constantly in flux and will change, said Ziebart, particularly as some states respond to the pressure of No Child Left Behind by challenging it.

Patience with the federal law is wearing thin, both nationally and in Hawaii's Legislature, where a resolution has been introduced urging Congress to amend the law according to the recommendations of the National Council of State Legislatures.

Education Commission of the States
State Department of Education
State DOE: No Child Left Behind
U.S. DOE: No Child Left Behind

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