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Left behind or Keeping up?

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)President Bush gestures while speaking about No Child Left Behind on March 2, at the Silver Street Elementary School in New Albany, Ind.
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Educators in Truckee and North Tahoe are facing an uphill battle to improve schools in restructuring ” the No Child Left Behind Act’s ultimate sanction for struggling schools ” and they’re not the only ones.

According to a new study from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy, the number of California schools facing the sanction nearly doubled in the past year, increasing from 401 schools in the 2005-2006 academic year to 701 in 2006-2007. That’s roughly 8 percent of California schools.

In the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, North Tahoe Middle School is in restructuring because students have missed adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets for five or more consecutive years. The school and others like it are employing strategies to boost performance.

One of the first alterations implemented by former North Tahoe Middle School principal Dave Curry was a new schedule that groups students by skill level, and is flexible to change as students progress.

The schedule includes doubling or even tripling math and English Language Arts classes for students who aren’t up to par, according to school board president Kristy Olk.

“We found that we needed fewer low-level classes. Kids were starting to perform and the kids that were really low were starting to move up,” Curry said in the report.

The pit-fall of the method is that some students do not receive science, social studies or elective classes.

Last year, the middle school launched a new program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), which is also offered at Tahoe Truckee and North Tahoe High School. The program emphasizes study habits, organization, note taking and academic commitment. Teachers across the campus teach the organization and note taking skills to keep classroom procedures consistent.

“Some students we had wished would apply didn’t, so we still don’t have an answer for the students that don’t believe that college is important,” Curry said in the report.

Other efforts at North Tahoe Middle have included training all researchers to support English language learners (ELLs), hiring English language and math coaches and having teachers observe other teachers.

Kings Beach Elementary is also restructuring some of its classes, though, in its third year of missing the standards mark, it is not yet required of the school.

The Center on Education Policy’s study, Beyond the Mountains: An Early Look at Restructuring Results in California, examined the restructuring process in state schools.

North Tahoe Middle School was one of eight California schools that participated in the study.

California has more schools facing this mandated reform than most other states not only because it is a large state, but because it began implementing test-based accountability systems sooner than most states, according to the center.

Of all schools in restructuring’s implementation phase, 207 have failed to meet targeted improvement for seven consecutive years, the study found. Meanwhile, only 10 schools that were in any phase of restructuring made achievement gains that were sufficient to allow them to exit school improvement in the last year.

Three Tahoe Truckee Unified schools are in program improvement ” Kings Beach Elementary is in its third year, North Tahoe Middle school is in its fifth year and Truckee Elementary is in its first.

No schools that have entered into program improvement status within the district have come out.

The study finds that California schools that replaced staff were no more likely to increase the percentages of proficient students on state tests than restructuring schools in general. Instead, officials at schools that improved attributed their success to analyzing school data and tailoring interventions to the needs of the particular school.

Teachers have not been replaced in Tahoe Truckee Unified, according to board president Kristy Olk, but data analysis has been accelerated.

“With the new data system that we have, we can be continuously testing the kids and monitoring the results so that we can go back and re-teach concepts instead of waiting for an annual test,” Olk said.

Schools in restructuring can elect to engage in a variety of reform options, but the report notes that schools using multiple efforts, but that did not replace staff, turn the school over to an outside entity, or becoming a charter, were more likely to meet targets in English language arts (ELA).

North Tahoe Middle School’s restructuring plan falls under this description.

To understand better California’s efforts, the center conducted case studies in four school districts and eight schools in restructuring. The case studies show that all the participating schools have implemented teacher team planning time, added teacher or principal coaches and changed their schedules to allow more time for special instruction for struggling students. In addition, all interviewees mentioned they would like to see the law give credit for individual students’ growth, regardless of whether they make AYP.

Over the past three years, the Center on Education Policy has conducted a series of analyses of the school restructuring processes in Maryland, Michigan and California as part of its comprehensive, multi-year study of the No Child Left Behind Act. The reports are all available at http://www.cep-dc.org.


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