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Education act unsettling to educators.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Results of the first school ratings from the No Child Left Behind Act are less than a month old, but parents may already be using them to make decisions - a fact that worries some Eugene educators.

The stories unfolded Friday at a back-to-school meeting for more than 600 Eugene teachers, administrators and staff.

At Sheldon High School, three parents have discussed pulling their children out of the school because it failed to meet the federal law's "adequate yearly progress" mark, Principal Bob Bolden said.

Under the act, states must assess each school using test scores, the percentage of students taking the test, the school's attendance records and the percentage of students graduating. The test scores are further broken down into categories by race, enrollment in special education classes and English as a second language students.

A school falls into the "needs improvement" category if it fails to meet national standards in just one of the categories.

Sheldon's alternative program that teaches life skills to developmentally disabled students attracts a high number of kids who don't do well on tests and are responsible for the school's "needs improvement" rating, Bolden said.

"On state assessments, Sheldon High School is rated as exceptional," Bolden said. "Now, with AYP, we did not meet the goal. How can you go from `exceptional' to not making the benchmark?"

The opposite scenario emerged at the Charlemagne French Immersion School at Fox Hollow Elementary, Principal Martha Moultry said. Parents have contacted her to see about getting their third- and fourth-graders enrolled because Charlemagne showed adequate yearly progress, or AYP - even though their children don't know French and would fall far behind students who have been enrolled since kindergarten, she said.

Educators shared these concerns with Lily Eskelsen, the National Education Association's secretary-treasurer who spoke out against the act at the school district gathering.

Calling it the "No Child Left Untested Act," Eskelsen noted that the law is a well-intentioned effort with a bumper sticker of a name. But the name masks an outright attack on the public school system that provides the best hope of success for the nation's most at-risk students, she said.

Schools that receive federal support because they serve large numbers of poor students face sanctions for failing to make progress.

While teachers welcome being held accountable, Eskelsen said the tests fail to acknowledge the many ways students at different levels succeed.

Success for a homeless student in one of her classes one day was simply that he uncurled from the fetal position in the back of the room, stopped sucking his thumb and began following the pictures in the book Eskelsen was reading to him, she said.

And no test could measure what her students learned when they launched a successful blood donation drive at their school, she said.

She encouraged teachers to continue to see each of their students "as a surprise package of potential waiting to be unwrapped instead of a test score."

The national teachers union plans to lobby Congress for dozens of changes to the act and may mount a court challenge because of its fine print promising that implementing the act won't cost states or school districts any more money, she said.

Eskelsen doesn't know of a single state that hasn't incurred expenses because of No Child Left Behind, she said.

Perhaps the new law's single achievement so far is in bringing educators together in opposition to it, she said.

She was clearly speaking to the choir in Eugene, where she received a standing ovation and where Superintendent George Russell also spoke out against the act's methodology.

"In Eugene, we're not caught up in the blame game, and we're not apologizing for the job we're doing for our kids," he said.

Of Eugene's 45 schools, including charter schools, 15 failed to make adequate yearly progress.

Eskelsen encouraged area teachers to make sure community members know what's really going on in schools, not just how the government is rating each institution. She told them to celebrate - and publicize - their successes and she pointed out that Eugene schools have plenty to celebrate with area students scoring in the top 10 percent in the nation in reading, writing and math. "It ain't braggin' if you can do it," she said.
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Title Annotation:Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 30, 2003
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