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Archive for Monday, February 14, 2005

Educators warn 100 percent goal for No Child Left Behind unlikely

February 14, 2005

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In nine years, 100 percent of public school children in the U.S. grades three through eight should be proficient in math and reading, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And while a government spokeswoman says that's what public education is all about, some teachers say meeting the 100 percent standard of the federal No Child Left Behind Act remains an unrealistic goal.

"They're trying to make all the sheep grow by weighing them," said Dick Wedel, of Lawrence, a retired teacher. "What about the kids who come to school with no breakfast or maybe their parents fought all night or come home drunk?"

But U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Jo Ann Webb said all children should be expected to do well in school.

"Isn't that what public education is all about, that a fifth-grade kid can read on a fifth-grade level?" she said.

Kansas students will take their state math and reading tests between Feb. 21 and April 8. Some grades will take reading tests and some will take math tests.

Starting next year, all Kansas students in grades three through eight will take reading and math tests each year.

States are expected to increase the percentage each year of students who test proficient or above, with the goal of reaching 100 percent by 2013-2014.

The U.S. Department of Education fully expects to meet the goal, Webb said.

Book-toting students at South Junior High School head to their next
class during passing period. Though the U.S. Department of
Education has mandated that 100 percent of third- through
eighth-graders be proficient in math and reading by 2014, some
educators warn that such a goal is unrealistic.

Book-toting students at South Junior High School head to their next class during passing period. Though the U.S. Department of Education has mandated that 100 percent of third- through eighth-graders be proficient in math and reading by 2014, some educators warn that such a goal is unrealistic.

Lawrence public schools Supt. Randy Weseman declined to say whether he thought 100 percent was a realistic goal.

"I don't question what goals they set," he said. "We just do our best to get there."

Three Lawrence elementary schools -- Kennedy, New York and Prairie Park -- fell short of the state target last year in math or reading.

At Kennedy School, 47.8 percent of fifth-graders scored proficient or better in reading. At New York School, only 35.3 scored proficient or better in reading.

Nearly 43 percent of Prairie Park School fourth-grade students scored proficient or above in math.



But the three schools still made the benchmark of "adequate yearly progress" as defined by No Child Left Behind, as did all Lawrence elementary and junior high schools.

Adequate yearly progress for elementary and junior high schools is determined by math and reading scores and attendance rates.

At Hillcrest School, 1045 Hilltop Drive, students did very well last year. A whopping 98 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or better in math. And more than 70 percent of fifth-graders scored proficient or better in reading.

But the 100 percent goal may remain impossibly elusive, some educators say. Not all children come from the same kind of homes, and not all learn at the same rates, said Cynthia Menzel, the communications director for the state teachers' union, Kansas-National Education Assn.

"If ... you've come to school with no breakfast, maybe you didn't eat that morning, maybe you're cold, you didn't sleep well the night before -- that's going to impact how you learn that day," Menzel said.

But Webb, of the U.S. Department of Education, said children can do well even if they come from dysfunctional homes.

"We believe that if you set high standards for children, that they set high standards for themselves," she said. "We think it's unfortunate when children are not even given the benefit of the doubt."

She said children in poor areas should be able to work at levels equal to children in more wealthy areas.

"It's really unfortunate when you look at a child's ZIP code and make certain assumptions about their ability to learn," Webb said.

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