Our view: An 'A' for effort

Three weeks after the Moffat County School District announced it had failed to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Colorado Department of Education commended the district for making "strong gains" in its annual accreditation review.

The seemingly contradictory findings may leave parents a little confused about the state of Moffat County schools, and administrators say dealing with that confusion is one of the frustrating aspects of accountability systems in Colorado.

"We have three different systems reporting the same data three different ways," Superintendent Pete Bergmann said Thursday.

The three accountability systems are as follows:

District accreditation is granted by the Colorado Department of Education based on evidence of progress and compliance with accreditation indicators. This is the report we wrote about Jan. 6 that showed the district making strong academic gains based on CSAP scores in all content areas.

School Accountability Reports are published annually. School Accountability reports rate schools from "excellent" to "unsatisfactory" based on Colorado Student Assessment Program and ACT scores, and include information about safety and school environment, revenues and expenditures and information about teacher training and experience. Report cards for each school in the district are available.

Adequate Yearly Progress stems from the federal legislation No Child Left Behind. NCLB set a goal of having every child in America proficient in reading and math by 2014. A school and/or district is labeled as "needs improvement" if any subgroup (gender, ethnicity, English language learners, etc.,) fails to meet performance targets or improve sufficiently each year.

When he presented the information to the school board on Dec. 16, Bergmann downplayed that the district had failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act.

That's because only two student subgroups out of 73 performed poorly on state assessment tests. But because of the requirements of No Child Left Behind, if one subgroup fails, the district fails, and the district is required by law to report the failure to parents and develop a plan to improve scores.

The two subgroups include children with disabilities at Craig Intermediate School and Craig Middle School. Assistant Superintendent Joel Sheridan acknowledged that to the parents of children in those two subgroups, the failure is noteworthy.

No Child Left Behind is "a good push and helps us keep our vision straight," Sheridan said.

He offered an analogy to put AYP in perspective: Imagine a student with a 3.5 grade-point average, but who scored a D in math. His parents won't let him play basketball until he turns that D into a passing grade. While his overall academic performance is good, the student knows he has to improve in one area.

That's where the district finds itself. And the targets will only get harder to hit as the federal government tries to get 100 percent of all subgroups in all schools in the country proficient in math and reading by 2014.

"I think the intent (of No Child Left Behind) is good, but how they are using and publicizing the data can be very confusing and misleading," Bergmann said.

But it's good information to have. Sheridan and Bergmann say the district would find those deficiencies and work to correct them regardless of the disclosure requirements of No Child Left Behind. "Our intention is not to make excuses. We accept the challenge to educate every child in every subgroup. But I believe our schools are doing a good job in student achievement as reflected in the more comprehensive state accreditation process."

We agree. We think it's useful to know that the district failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, but looking at the overall picture, it shouldn't be the only measuring stick. After all, the district succeeded in hitting performance targets in 97 percent of its subgroups.

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