More schools headed for academic oversight

GLENDALE — Eleven Glendale Unified schools next year are at risk of joining four others that are being penalized for missing federal academic targets, according to the latest round of student testing data.

Schools that miss federal benchmarks in consecutive years are designated as Program Improvement campuses, putting them in a category of more strict oversight for boosting student achievement. If those goals aren't met, more drastic measures could be triggered, such as staff overhauls.

Toll Middle School and Glendale and Hoover high schools joined Roosevelt Middle School this year as being in Program Improvement after failing to hit the federal testing benchmarks for the second year in a row.

But the group could grow if Balboa, Cerritos, Columbus, Edison, Franklin, Glenoaks, Jefferson, Mann, Marshall, Muir elementary schools and Wilson Middle School don't make significant improvements and miss their federal targets later this year.

"The reality is all schools and all districts are headed there with the way this is set up," Supt. Dick Sheehan said. "It's obviously a system that needs to be updated."

By 2014, federal law requires all students to test proficient in English and math, which is unrealistic, and one reason why these campuses could be in Program Improvement in one year, Sheehan said.

It's a possible tidal wave, officials said. Academic achievement in federal law is a zero-sum game that rewards student ability, rather than consistent improvement year to year.

Next year, the federal target rises 11% and continues to escalate annually to full proficiency by 2014.

It differs from state benchmarks, which prize growing student achievement year to year, state Supt. Jack O'Connell said.

"The most accurate portrayal of a school's progress is growth," he said Monday after touring Roosevelt Middle School, the district's only campus in its second year of Program Improvement. "The metric is key."

Federal law was intended to force school administrators and staff to ensure all students are successful, officials said. But when one student demographic misses its mark, as is the case with many of Glendale Unified's campuses, the entire school is dinged with Program Improvement.

"To brand an entire school as failing because a certain population has difficulty, through no fault of their own or the school's…is blatantly unfair," said Tami Carlson, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn. "We'll be seeing more and more of this at our schools in Glendale and across the state."

Parents could move their students from Program Improvement campuses to other sites that satisfied the accountability requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act. The status also allows for more staff development and training, but administrators and teachers can be involuntarily dismissed after four years in Program Improvement.

English-language learners were one factor that drove the Toll, Glendale and Hoover campuses into Program Improvement this year. The group also struggles at almost all the 11 other campuses that are one-year away from the same fate.

English language learners — who make up about 25% of Glendale Unified students — missed their targets at Cerritos and Glenoaks elementary schools. Latino students, some of whom double as English learners, missed their targets at Cerritos, Columbus, Edison, Franklin, Jefferson and Muir.

"Unfortunately this is the reality we deal in," Sheehan said. "Not to downplay the system, but amongst educators, the goal is to be one of the last ones in Program Improvement."

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