Progress at Empire Elementary School

Principal Pat Carpenter and her staff at Empire Elementary deserve a pat on the back for the effort to bring fourth-grade writing test results up to national standards.

They know they still have work to do, because the next set of tests, called Criterion Reference Tests, must also make the grade before the school is deemed to have made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind requirements.

Nevertheless, the writing scores - 50.4 percent of the school's fourth-graders were proficient - are worth celebrating.

Actually, praise is due all the Carson City schools because all of them are on track so far. But Empire faced the biggest hurdles and will continue to do so, merely because of the number of students whose backgrounds create extra challenges, such as learning English.

Empire Elementary has started a number of programs to address those issues, beginning as early as age 3. But it may be attitude that counts most.

While the rest of us debate the merits of No Child Left Behind and, in particular, whether enough money has been allocated by the federal government to meet its demands, teachers and principals in Carson City schools have to face the reality they and their students are being measured by it.

"Reach as high as you can," Carpenter told the Empire staff. "Now, reach a quarter-inch higher."

Perhaps Empire's teachers and students would be stretching their limits without a federal mandate. We've never worried unduly about Carson City's schools, because their leadership and their results have been consistently high over the years.

The pressure from No Child Left Behind is that it requires literally that no student be allowed to fail. We'll continue to raise the questions of whether it means sacrificing resources better spent on the best students rather than the least; whether it focuses too much attention on test results over a broader teaching approach; whether it's fundamentally fair to judge children with learning deficiencies, or from poor homes, or who grew up with a different language, on the same plane as children with all the advantages.

In the meantime, though, it's enough to pause for a moment and say, "Well done."


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