Standardized tests making everyone nervous

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Results from standardized tests being taken by students this year will determine:

a. Whether they are learning adequately.

b. Whether they will be in school longer.

c. Whether they will attend the same school next year.

d. Whether principals and staff could be replaced.

e. All of the above.

The answer is "e": All of the above. And officials are saying the stakes established under the new federal guidelines, No Child Left Behind, are too high.

Nowhere is it felt more strongly than at Carson City School District's Mark Twain and Empire elementary schools.

If students score well at Mark Twain this year, the school will pull out of "needs improvement" status. However, if students do not score well at Empire, that school will fall into that category.

Fourth- and 10th-graders throughout the district will be taking the tests during the first week of November.

Seventh-graders finished their tests Friday.

After receiving poor results on the standardized exam two years in a row, Mark Twain Elementary School was labeled "in need of improvement."

A school must score poorly two years in a row to fall into the "needs improvement" category and must score well -- show "adequate yearly progress" -- two years in a row to shake it.

Under that label, Mark Twain is subject to sanctions which includes allowing parents to withdraw their children from the school in favor of another one.

Six students opted to attend Fritsch Elementary School this year, the school designated as the alternative for parents.

Mike Watty, associate superintendent of education, said the effects were minimal this year but he can foresee problems in the future if more schools are deemed in need of improvement. With Carson City schools at 98 percent capacity, Watty said it leaves little room for shuffling.

And falling into the "needs improvement" category may also be too easy. Schools must show adequate yearly progress among all categories of students, which include ethnic groups, special education, low-income and English-as-a-second-language students.

If one group is not improving, the whole school fails. And one student may be counted more than once.

For example: A Hispanic student enrolled in English as a second language who is also living in a low-income home. If the student scores poorly, the score will be counted four times.

"The intent of the law is noble," Watty said. "I certainly agree that we need to have growth in every area but the sanctions are pretty harsh.

"The way the law is being interpreted doesn't set up a level playing field."

And the only schools subject to the sanctions are the schools receiving federal money for having a high population of minority and low-income students.

Mark Twain, Empire and Bordewich-Bray elementary schools all receive money from the federal Title I grant.

If schools remain in "needs improvement" status for three years, school hours or days of the school year may be increased.

In the fourth year, principals and staff may be replaced, the school could reopen as a charter school or the state could take it over.

Statewide, associate superintendent Keith Rheault said 12 schools were subject to the sanctions this year. He anticipates approximately 100 schools will be in the same situation after this year's administration of tests.

He said in five years, if regulations don't change, 80 percent of Nevada's schools will need improvement.

In a largely rural state, he said it would defeat the purpose of giving parents a choice.

"The law says students can be bused to another district but in Nevada that can mean a bus ride of an hour or more each way," he said. "Sounds like there's no choice."

And he says Nevada is not alone.

"We're not the only ones. Every state is saying the same thing."


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