August 15, 2002
Tish Howard knows the difficulties some children face when they come to school. Howard, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants was raised by her mother in a neighborhood that was full of economic, social and ethnic diversity. The small family did not have much money and if it were not for public schools, Howard would have grown up without an education.
As principal at Washington Mill Elementary in the Mount Vernon area, Howard knows the challenges the equally economically, socially and ethnically diverse students face when they walk in through the door.
"This is the same kind of community I grew up in," Howard said. "I came to school with the same needs."
Howard's background and a couple of influential teachers have shaped her view of what education should be and as a result, she looks forward to the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.
"My focus has always been in line with No Child Left Behind," Howard said. "I came to Fairfax County six years ago because of the philosophy. George Bush and the rest of the nation has caught up to Fairfax County."
UNDER THE ACT, public schools will have to show incremental academic improvement not only school-wide, but in four subgroups: students with disabilities, limited English proficiency, economically disadvantaged and minorities, which is expected to be broken down further into individual ethnic groups. In addition, factors such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, high-school graduation rates and an as-yet-unnamed "other academic indictor" — most likely absenteeism — for the elementary level will also be measured. The goal is for every school to reach 100 percent passing rate in reading, math and science by 2014. The state will set the baseline by which all improvement will be measured by using this spring's Standards of Learning test scores.
"Ninety-five percent of the students in each subgroup have to be tested. There are no exceptions for first-year ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] or for students with special needs," said Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent of Instructional Services for Fairfax County Public Schools.
The act also requires teachers to meet certain certification levels. Starting this September, all newly hired Title I-school teachers must meet the credentials for a "highly qualified" teacher, as spelled out in the act. By the 2005-06 school year, all public school teachers must meet those standards. Fairfax County has 36 Title I schools including Washington Mill. Title I schools receive federal funding for either school-wide or targeted programs based on the number of students the school has on free- or reduced-price meals. Other Mount Vernon area Title I elementary schools include Bucknell, Fort Belvoir, Groveton, Hollin Meadows, Hybla Valley, Mount Vernon Woods, Riverside, Woodlawn and Woodley Hills.
"This will have a huge impact on special education throughout the nation," Sprague said. "The qualification of teachers is also going to have a big impact on provisionally licensed teachers." Provisionally licensed teachers are in the process of earning full state certification.
MANY OF THE TITLE I SCHOOLS are looking forward to the challenge of the act, while still trying to remain cautious while they wait to hear what the benchmarks will be. State officials expect the baseline by which all progress will be judged to be determined by the fall.
"All schools will have the same impact. This gets us looking at all the kids," said Lori Morton, principal at Riverside. "Our goal is to differentiate our curriculum to meet every child's needs."
At Woodley Hills, principal Rima Vesilind said the student population is so diverse the school already has to individualize lessons.
"For us, it would be reaffirming what we are already doing," Vesilind said. "They have said to us every child has to succeed at reading and math, which is already in line with our mission."
Howard said the act refers to all children, not just those who are considered disadvantaged. Which means the schools will have to focus not only on the student in special education, but also the one who has been identified as gifted and talented.
"There are some children who get left behind when they're not enriched," Howard said. "The act doesn't mean every struggling child. It means all the children in this building.
I'm not frightened by No Child Left Behind. It is a great way to tell all our teachers they have the whole nation behind them."