(Host) Bennington’s high school and middle school got some unwanted publicity recently. They became the first schools in the state to be placed in ‘corrective action’ under the No Child Left Behind Act. But Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School principal says the schools were unfairly targeted by a flawed federal system.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Lunch room sounds.)
(Keese) Bennington has a lot of students whose family incomes are low enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. But you wouldn’t know that from the cafeteria line at Mount Anthony Union High. That’s because they’ve adopted a system where anyone can swipe a coded student ID to pay for lunch. (Sound of swiped card, beep, beep.)
(Sue Maguire) “So all they do is go through and swipe. Everybody does the same thing and no one knows who’s on free and reduced and who isn’t.”
(Keese) Sue Maguire is the principal at Mount Anthony Union High. She says the card system solved one problem. Many low-income students who avoided the program before out of embarrassment have now signed up for subsidized meals.
But that success created a new problem with the No Child Left Behind Act. The law says schools with 80 or more students receiving the subsidies must show improved test scores each year for disadvantaged students.
(Maguire) “Truly if we hadn’t put the swipe card system in we would have got the second good check mark, cause we made overall AYP this year. So to me that’s very punitive.”
(Keese) AYP is adequate yearly progress toward a goal of total proficiency for all students in the year 2014. The law requires students in different categories to show progress towards that goal each year. Bennington’s schools have been cited before, under the old state assessment system. Those old problems are part of why the school’s in corrective action now.
But Maguire says the schools are improving, as current school-wide test scores show. It was only the low-income category that failed to show adequate progress this year. If the school had 79 disadvantaged students instead of 80 or more, it wouldn’t have had to show separate scores for those students. And it wouldn’t have been singled out.
Mount Anthony Middle school is in a similar situation with special needs students who failed to demonstrate improvement this year. Many of those special needs have also been linked to poverty.
(Cate) “There are likely over the years going to be a number of schools in this particular circumstance, and a lot of it will have to do with the demographics of the population.”
(Keese) Richard Cate is Vermont’s Commissioner of education. He says it’s no secret that low-income students don’t perform as well on average. Most often he says it’s because they enter kindergarten behind the curve.
Cate says the state will work closely with Bennington on special programs for disadvantaged students and their teachers.
(Cate) “But I have to tell you, I’m absolutely convinced that there isn’t enough resources in the world to undo the lack of preparedness these kids have. We really need to approach it long before they get to school. Early childhood education is the only thing that will ever have a significant effect.”
(Keese) Cate says schools also need to stop thinking of ‘corrective action’ as punishment and start seeing it as an opportunity to improve.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.