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Minorities question Utah's NCLB answer

Published April 7, 2005 1:57 am

State accountability system: It could supersede No Child Left Behind; some say the state's education
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Not so fast.

That was the message Wednesday night from minority parents and community leaders who now question Utah's push to relax federal school- and teacher-quality standards.



The Legislature will meet in a special session April 19 and 20 to consider - and probably pass - a bill that would put Utah's accountability system ahead of the federal one outlined in the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.

Rep. Duane Bordeaux, D-Salt Lake City, hosted a community meeting at a Rose Park school to inform constituents about the measure's implications.

For some of the 50 or so attending the meeting, the talk about implications and distinctions between the state and federal systems mattered little.

Dorothy Trujillo just wants her seventh-grade daughter to get the help she needs in school.

"I wish they'd just get together and make it right. Just help my daughter. That's all I want," said Trujillo, a Navajo from southeastern Utah. She recently relocated to Salt Lake City to give her daughter a better environment.

Others said they resented the state's efforts to downplay, if not abandon, NCLB.

They argued that the state system virtually ignores minority students, who have long lagged behind their white and Asian peers on standardized tests.

Luciano Martinez said that as a district administrator in Granite School District, he had a difficult time persuading principals to focus resources on their struggling minority students.

"I can see why No Child Left Behind came about," he said.

The community's opposition to the pending state legislation comes from greater understanding about what Utah's accountability system - called the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS) - does and doesn't do:

l For each school, U-PASS will report state test scores by ethnicity, poverty level, English proficiency, gender, migrant status, mobility and disability status if the school has more than 15 students in those groups.

l Those groups' scores, however, will not factor into whether a school's performance is deemed "acceptable" or "not acceptable" unless there are at least 40 students represented.

l U-PASS measures school quality by the percentage of students who pass state tests in language arts and writing, math and science, as well as attendance and graduation rates.

l U-PASS uses similar indicators to measure whether a school has made annual progress in improving individual students' academic achievement.

By contrast, No Child Left Behind holds schools accountable for annually improving test scores of student groups, including minority students, English learners, disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

Failure to advance a single group means the school did not make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal law. Schools face public scrutiny, and, in some cases, sanctions if they don't make enough progress for two consecutive years.

Here, too, however, the state wants to hold schools accountable only for groups with more than 40 students - up from the current 10.

That means hundreds of schools with small ethnic populations or a handful of English learners will no longer have to show annual test-score gains among those students.

Without that pressure, minority advocates say, schools won't have much incentive to pay attention to students in those groups.

Bordeaux urged the crowd to air their concerns to legislators before the special session starting April 19.

"As a community," he said, "we have a responsibility to continue to raise these issues."

rlynn@sltrib.com

 

 

 

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