Some high schools failing No Child Left Behind requirements

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(Host) According to a new report, a number of high schools in the state have failed to meet certain requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Education commissioner Richard Cate says the results are misleading, because many of the schools are making solid progress to meet the federal goals.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The assessment results involve high schools that have students in grades 9 through 12. There are only 25 schools in this category because many schools are in union districts that serve students in grades 7 through 12.

Of this group of 25 schools, 14 met the progress standards of No Child Left Behind while 11 didn’t. In most cases the reading and language arts results didn’t meet federal goals.

Education commissioner Richard Cate doesn’t think these results tell a complete story of how these schools are performing:

(Cate) “So a school could have improved over last year and some of these did, but still not have made enough progress to meet the requirement of that step. So I’d rather be able to judge whether they’re headed in the right direction as opposed to whether they’ve met the federal equation.”

(Kinzel) While Cate says he supports the basic premise of No Child Left Behind – that’s to hold schools accountable for the performance of their students, he thinks the law doesn’t make a lot of sense for rural states like Vermont.

(Cate) “We don’t have the schools that the law was designed to address because they’re in the large urban areas. And so when people talk about closing schools and that sort of thing, when there’s only one school in town, that’s not the approach we’re going to take nor should it be. Our schools aren’t in that bad a strait.”

(Kinzel) Cate says he’s seen an alarming trend over the past few years – a large number of the students who don’t meet the federal standards come from lower income families. He says that’s why it’s difficult to compare test results on a school-to-school basis.

(Cate) “The bottom line is if you have 15% of your students that are on free or reduced lunch you’re going to do a lot better than if 65% of them are on free or reduced lunch. It’s that simple. Now that’s not an excuse. And that’s not a reason to not do everything we possibly can to serve those students well. It is just a more complicated task.”

(Kinzel) Cate says he’s concerned that test results show that many lower income students have fallen behind in reading skills by the third grade. He says correcting this problem is one of the biggest educational challenges facing the state.

(Cate) “What happens between pre-school and third grade is probably the greatest indicator of how the performance that student will be when they get to high schools. So it’s not just about high school. High school performance is as much about early primary years as it is what goes on in the high school.”

(Kinzel) The No Child Left Behind law is up for reauthorization in Congress next year. It’s likely that the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will want to make some significant changes to the law.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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