September 30, 2008

Utah Schools Left Behind in Tests?

By Amy K. Stewart Deseret News

Utah's schoolchildren are continuing to struggle to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate, according to the latest testing results released Monday.

The NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress reports released by the Utah State Office of Education showed 80 percent of the state's schools met NCLB requirements, compared to just 75 percent last year.

NCLB mandates are intended to help schools ensure all students are succeeding -- regardless of ethnicity, income, disability or English skills -- and are proficient in language arts and math by 2014.

Utah's testing officials also announced Monday how students did on the conglomerate of state-required tests: the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students.

To reach an acceptable level for U-PASS, a school must meet state standards in whole school participation, proficiency and progress.

Of elementary and middle schools, 85 percent achieved an acceptable level of performance with U-PASS this year, compared to 84 percent in 2007.

Of high schools, 94 percent achieved an acceptable level of performance this year compared to 79 percent in 2007.

State testing officials are continuing to examine the data but say the jump in high school U-PASS achievement could be due to an increase in participation as students are taking exams "more seriously," said Judy Park, USOE associate superintendent of data, assessment and accountability.

Also, there is a difference this year in calculating the high school math segment of U-PASS. Students taking math classes at a level higher than algebra and geometry for credit were calculated into the mix, Park said.

NCLB data is based on results from the Criterion-Referenced Test which is taken each spring, as well as test participation and attendance. To achieve a passing mark on the AYP reports a school must have passing grades in all 40 testing categories.

Darryl Thomas, Granite School District director of research, assessment and evaluation, says he has seen principals and teachers burst into tears upon seeing their AYP reports.

"It is difficult," he said.

Of the elementary and middle schools (grades 3-8) that failed to pass AYP, 36.1 failed in just one category. For the nonpassing high schools, 47.6 percent failed in just one category.

For Title 1 schools that don't pass AYP, the situation is beyond emotional: It means the school is put on a "school improvement list" and is subject to sanctions. A school is designated Title 1 based on the number of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

While more schools passed AYP this year than in the previous year, some subcategories indicate students continue to face challenges in areas of race, language, socioeconomic status and learning disabilities.

Some 84 elementary and middle schools (12.1 percent) failed the AYP subcategory for Hispanics. A total of 138 schools (19.9 percent) did not pass the subcategory for English Language Learners.

Park said the ELL subcategory is difficult because once an ELL student learns the language, the student is moved out. That category is continually being filled with new kids.

"It's a constant revolving door," Park said.

The poverty subcategory was another problem area. A total of 112 (16.2 percent) schools missed the mark there. Often, students in this subcategory may not have books or access to other educational opportunities outside school.

"There is no doubt we have an achievement gap," Park said. "It is something we need to work on and focus on."

The NCLB bar is raised every two years with higher test scores required to pass. Utah schools will face a higher bar next year.

The NCLB program is slated for reauthorization this year by Congress.

For more information on Utah's AYP reports, or to find out how your child's school did, go to:

A chart listing the schools that received failing AYP or U-PASS marks is slated for publication in Wednesday's paper.

Contributing: Wendy Leonard

E-mail: [email protected]

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