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December 21, 2014

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Eight schools fail to make ‘adequate yearly progress’

Five Clark County elementary schools and three middle schools that receive an extra share of federal dollars failed to make the "adequate yearly progress" on statewide exams as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, education officials said this morning.

Bracken, Carson, McCall, Sunrise Acres and Wendell Williams elementary schools were on the state's list. Jim Bridger, Von Tobel and West middle schools were also named.

Thousands of students at the eight campuses will now be offered transfers and transportation to more successful schools as required by federal law, said Mark Lange, director of Title I compliance for the Clark County School District.

Today's list includes only Title I schools on nine-month calendars that didn't show "adequate yearly progress" for at least a second consecutive year and are thus labeled as needing improvement.

In addition to the eight schools named today, 14 additional Title I campuses on year-round calendars could be named as needing improvement later when test results for those campuses are finished, Lange said.

One of the campuses, Carson, is already offering school choice because last year was its second year on the list. Bracken was converted to a magnet program this year and is already offering school choice.

Title I schools receive extra federal dollars based on the percentage of students coming from low-income homes. Clark County currently has 41 elementary schools and 10 middle schools identified as Title I.

Letters could go out to parents of students at the eight schools as early as today, said Charlene Green, associate superintendent of human resources for the district. Parents will then have 10 days to decide whether they want their child transferred, Green said.

"We're going to do everything we can to accommodate parents who want to exercise the choice option with the least amount of disruption to the receiving school," she said.

Teachers may be reassigned to make sure schools accepting transfers don't have to increase their class sizes, Green said.

Despite the district's best efforts, an exodus of students could have dramatic repercussions at both the low-performing schools they're fleeing and the campuses that takes them in, said Martha Young, associate dean of the School of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

It may end up helping the failing school to have a decrease in student population, even if it means losing some teachers, as well, Young said.

"We know the more crowded the campus environment the more difficult it is to serve the needs of those students," Young said. "Essentially large numbers of transfers would be creating smaller schools."

On the flip side the higher-performing schools could become more crowded and possibly even see its test scores drop as a result, Young said.

"Even if you have the best of intentions, when you move groups of students you're changing the dynamics of that school population," Young said. "There may be some effects that are not the intended effects of No Child Left Behind.

"It's great to say we need high-quality schools, high-quality teachers and high-quality students. But you need to look at the price tag and the effect on the integrity of the overall school system."

Jessie Phee, principal of Von Tobel Middle School, said this morning she wasn't surprised to see her campus on the state's list. The school has struggled to improve its reading and math scores and last year was awarded additional state funds for improvement programs, Phee said.

But those dollars won't actually arrive in the school's coffers until this winter, Phee said.

"We have some wonderful programs in place and a very dedicated staff, and I'm optimistic that the majority of our parents will want to stick with us," Phee said. "We're moving in the right direction. We just need to give initiatives a chance to work instead of pulling kids out in the middle of the cycle."

Under the federal regulations, school districts must set aside 20 percent of their total Title I budgets to cover the costs of providing student transfers and supplemental services at failing schools. That comes to about $7 million in Clark County, said Susan Wright, director of Title I services for the district.

For the 2002-03 academic year, about 100 students received transfers from four schools at a cost of about $55,000, Wright said.

Green said she doubted whether the number of students transferred this fall would top a thousand, given that the school year has already started and parents may be reluctant to uproot their children.

Most other states identified their failing schools earlier this summer, giving parents time to opt for transfers before the academic year began.

Nevada's list is late because one of the exams used to identify failing schools wasn't given until May at nine-month schools and July at year-round campuses. The testing schedule has since been moved up to March and April so that scores can be tallied earlier, Lange said.

The state Education Department is still waiting for scores from about 100 year-round campuses -- including Title I schools -- in Clark County, which tested its students later in the year. Those scores are expected by October, district officials said.

A separate "watch list" of schools in their first year of failing to show adequate yearly progress -- both Title I and regular campuses -- will be released early next month, state education officials said.

No Child Left Behind requires schools test all students in grades three through eight and show "adequate yearly progress" in academic achievement. There must also be yearly gains by student subgroups, including low-income, minority, special education and non-native English speakers.

Schools that fail to show a 95 percent student participation rate -- both overall and by subgroups -- are deemed deficient.

Elementary schools were judged using third and fifth grade scores on the statewide criterion reference test. At the middle school level seventh grade scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills were used to rate progress. High schoosl were rated using scores from 10th graders in 2002 and 11th graders in 2003 on the state's proficiency exam.

Federal law requires only failing Title I schools to offer school choice. But under state law regular schools that fail to show adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years must submit improvement plans to the Nevada Department of Education. A third year on the list could make the school eligible for additional help from the state.

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