Leaders fault act for schools failure



Under different circumstances, an official state designation that New Haven’s schools are failing might elicit public outrage about the conditions of the city’s education system. But with 54 percent of Connecticut school districts included on a state warning list issued last week to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, most local leaders said they were more concerned with flaws in the act than with the city’s inclusion on the list.

The 99 school districts that landed on the list — ranging from Greenwich to Bridgeport — were cited for failing to make “adequate yearly progress” on statewide reading and writing standardized tests. While the only implication of the list this year is that the identified districts must inform parents of their designation, schools that remain on the list will be subject to sanctions ranging from implementing “improvement plans” to a loss of funding.

Signed into law by President Bush in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act requires states to implement stricter performance standards for their public schools in order to maintain federal funding.

In New Haven, which has long performed poorly on standardized tests, school officials said the newest warnings are not that significant. New Haven Public Schools spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said the district’s placement on the list will not change its strategy for improving the city’s schools.

“We already had our noses to the grindstone, so this doesn’t really detract from the work we have cut out for us,” Sullivan-DeCarlo said. “We have steadily improved [test] scores, but there’s still a lot of work left to do, and it really didn’t take a federal list to drive that point home for us.”

Echoing the responses of many local and state leaders across Connecticut since the list was released last week, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the high number of districts on the list muted the impact of the designation. But with severe penalties facing districts that do not improve their performance, DeStefano said many municipalities were wondering how they would find the resources necessary to reach the more stringent standards implemented by the No Child Left Behind Act.

“We need to improve academic outcomes for our kids,” DeStefano said. “But No Child Left Behind legislates that outcome without providing resources to support teachers and students.”

Placement on the warning list was based on a district’s overall performance, as well as on the performances of various subgroups within a district — including different racial groups, special education students and students with limited English-language proficiency.

If even one of these groups failed to meet performance requirements — or if fewer than 95 percent of students in a group took the required tests — the entire district was included in the report. Greenwich, for example, was placed on the list because three students in the district did not take one of the required tests.

New Haven, however, was one of nine districts identified because the overall district did not show enough improvement. Still, Sullivan-DeCarlo said the complexity involved in determining which districts made the list will lessen its impact for educators and the public.

“The way you can get on the list is so complicated, it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on in the district,” she said. “A lot of districts got on the list because they didn’t test a lot of kids. It’s not an illustrative list.”

But officials at the State Department of Education said the list can be helpful as one of many factors for districts to take into consideration in their efforts to improve performance.

“It’s very difficult to look at a list and not see winners and losers,” Department spokesman Thomas Murphy said. “This is not an indictment; it’s a wake-up call. The important thing is for the district to look at the areas of strength and weakness and make changes as they see fit.”

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