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Editorials: Time to leave the rigidity behind

September 17, 2010

The latest round of federal data released this week sent five Glendale Unified schools into the purgatory that is "Program Improvement" after English language learners failed to meet certain testing benchmarks.

On the face of it, the designation seems dubious, since Program Improvement is reserved for schools that fail to meet escalating test score benchmarks in consecutive years. But it's not as if Roosevelt and Toll middle schools and Hoover and Glendale high schools' scores went backward; in fact, they made significant improvements — just not by enough.

All of this can be tied to the ever-moving federal goals that continue to get higher through 2014, when all student groups are supposed to be 100% proficient in English and math. For diverse districts like Glendale Unified then, the challenge of meeting these escalating benchmarks will only get harder as the pool of children from immigrant and non-English-speaking families continues to get replenished amid tougher and tougher goals.

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So to meet the 100% proficiency goal, all new incoming students will essentially have to be on par, no room for catching up. Obviously, this is a reality that will never happen, which sets the stage for the very real possibility of more and more schools being classified under Program Improvement if the feds don't overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act.

While schools should be held accountable to improving standards, there comes a point when the metric system turns on the public. Parents and even students can start to get unnecessarily demoralized when, despite their progress, they keep getting slapped by the big guy.

In the case of Toll Middle School, which improved 12 points on the state Academic Performance Index to the above-average mark of 814, it was put on Program Improvement because its English language learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students didn't reach their targets.

It's time education officials start taking a more nuanced approach to grading the progress of schools, and develop a better way to gauge the progress of a hard-to-teach segment of the student population.

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