5 schools miss federal goals

GLENDALE — Parents with children at five Glendale Unified campuses will soon get letters informing them they can move their children elsewhere within the district next school year.

The district is obligated to give parents the choice after Roosevelt and Toll middle schools and Hoover and Glendale high schools were identified as Program Improvement schools this week for failing to meet certain federal testing benchmarks.

"Everything is pointing up, but because the [academic] target continues to move…you can miss the target and continue in the Program Improvement process," Deputy Supt. John Garcia said during a board of education meeting on Tuesday. "It's an incredibly convoluted and challenging model."

Parents too share the frustration, said Annie Alwin, president of the Hoover High Parent Teacher Student Assn.

"We have complete confidence in Hoover," she said. "They're on a path already of continuous improvement."

A fifth school, Cerritos Elementary, is in a separate category because it was included on a list of the 1,000 "lowest performing schools" in California. State law passed in January required the California Department of Education to create a list of low performing schools, but no single school district can have more than 10% of its schools listed.

School board members and district officials derided the law in a board meeting Tuesday, and instead praised Cerritos, where student achievement has grown 24 points to 790 on the Academic Performance Index. The state sets 800 as the goal on the standardized tests that range from 200 to 1,000 and help determine property values.

"What would Los Angeles Unified look like if we truly had the 1,000 worst performing schools on this list?" school board member Mary Boger said. "I think it's a tragedy and crime that Cerritos…should be tarred and feathered with this ridiculous suggestion that they're one of the lowest performing schools in California."

The duality surrounding Cerritos is replicated at Toll Middle School, where academic achievement is growing, but the school slid into Program Improvement, a designation for schools that do not meet federal benchmarks in consecutive years.

Districts must have all their students reach escalating proficiency rates in English and math, or they're dinged by federal law. By 2014, 100% of students are expected to be proficient in math and English, according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

It's a provision that's well-intentioned, but unrealistic, Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said.

"You want to be one of the last ones, basically, in Program Improvement," he said at Tuesday's meeting. "The last thing I ever want to do is make excuses, but it is a flawed system that penalizes schools for doing well."

Board members instructed staff to review academic performance among the district's English language learners and determine why their scores on federal benchmarks dropped from 2009 levels.

English learners represent about a quarter of Glendale Unified students, according to the most recent state figures. They're a challenging group, school board member Christine Walters said, because as they improve linguistically and academically, they are reclassified out of the English learner pool.

The English language learner group comprises students who continue to struggle with reading, writing or speaking English. Almost by design, the student group will not reach 100% proficiency in English and math by 2014 because those who do reach proficiency are reclassified into a different student group, Walters said, with new or current students who aren't proficient staying behind as English learners.

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