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Groveton Holds NCLB Forum

School Board members speak out on the issues.

NCLB. It stands for No Child Left Behind. It's also been called No Child Left Untested and No Child Gets Ahead. Whatever one thinks of it, it's here to stay, and as principal of Groveton Elementary School, Chris Lamb wanted her parents to understand what it was about.

So recently, she hosted a Parent Education Forum. Lamb invited Wendell Bassett, Groveton parent and education coordinator for the Gum Springs Development Center's Head Start Program. She also invited Edmundo DeLeon, a Groveton parent with five grown children, all of whom were students of Fairfax County Public Schools. DeLeon was also a former member of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

Reading from a prepared script, which was translated into Spanish by ESOL teacher Ivette Colon, DeLeon first explained what NCLB is, basically a Federal mandate that was passed two years ago which focuses on learning achievements for all students.

By 2014, all students in Groveton need to achieve high standards. Progress is measured by the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and NCLB targets. Groveton's annual target for students in the third and fifth grades need to be met in math and reading.

Measures are taken in all groups: students with disabilities; economically disadvantaged; limited English proficiency; black students; Hispanic students; and white students. Each year, progress must be made in all groups, with the ultimate outcome being that 100 percent of students graduate with good grades and learning skills.

WHILE THE OVERALL GOAL doesn't kick in until 2014, Groveton is already on the line. If they don't meet the minimum target or show progress by 2003-2004, then they must take action. If there's no progress for two years, then parents can move children to another public school; the county pays for transportation. No progress for three years? Then, in addition to students being able to transfer, Groveton will be required to provide more services to students such as tutoring.

The consequences of no progress for four or five years are serious; they include the instituting of a new curriculum; extending the school day or year; or hiring more learning experts.

Last year, the NCLB minimum target for math was 59 percent. Groveton achieved this easily with their white students (80 percent). They barely made it with their black students (60 percent). They missed the standard for both the Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged students by one point (58 percent) and they did not meet the standard for Students with Disabilities (36 percent). The results for reading were similar and this year Groveton needs all groups to be above the standards.

To remedy this, Groveton is focusing on learning and training their teachers. They have been growing the focus on math and reading to be in line the Virginia Standards of Learning. They're also relying on partnerships, such as the Communities in Schools (CIS) Parent Information and Resource Center and PTA initiatives like reading companions and parent education workshops.

The goal of the workshop was not only to education parents about what NCLB is, but what they can do to help their students meet the goals. Some of the suggestions were: turn off the TV; show an interest in child's schoolwork, homework and reading; set up a quiet place for child to do homework; show child how to respect others; and learn how to help student with math and reading. Following the presentations, the 50 or so parents divided into Spanish and English workshops on math and reading.

LAMB SAID THAT she was a little disappointed at the turnout, but considering that it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, she was thankful for the people who came. Regarding NCLB, she said, "With 27 languages, it makes it difficult. You need to not only understand cultures, but there are so many levels of learning. We're doing a good job, but the hardest part is with ESOL and Special Education [students]. Then there's the complication that we're a Title I School and we're not receiving the funding. We worked so hard to have all students advance. Now we can't focus on the entire child, instead you have to look at the separate aspects."

Lamb said that the point of the workshop was to make sure that families had a basic understanding of how it affects their children and show how hard the teachers are working.

"I don't want them to be overpowered by the rhetoric of the law," she said.

Dr. Nicholas Fischer, assistant superintendent of instructional services for FCPS, was at the presentation; Lamb said that he has encouraged them to go further with the presentation theyĆ­ve prepared.

Also at the presentation were School Board Members Dan Storck and Brad Center. Center said, "From my perspective, the intention is laudable, but I think that it's unrealistic to have all children meet the same goal."

To illustrate this, he took a hypothetical case of a school in Maine. If they have one Hispanic student in the school system and that student fails, then the whole school fails. "It's not just a certain threshold, but all students will be tested, and the threshold keeps getting higher," said Center.

STORCK SAID THAT there are some real problems with the Title I schools.

"The subgroups are a major hurdle," said Storck.

"It's a moving target," said Center. "Title I schools have a shorter timeframe [to meet the standards] and yet they have more problems."

Center is not alone in this thinking, and it appears that there have already been adjustments to some of the standards, an indication that people are rethinking some of the stringent standards.

"Many lawmakers are beginning the question the law," said Center.

One of the major problems is that NCLB is largely unfunded.

"There are a huge number of unfunded state and Federal mandates," said Storck. "NCLB is not funded; a program for educating kids with disabilities is not funded."

Storck strongly believes that the "quality of what we do far exceeds that of any private school."

Fischer said that it's good to look at sub-groups because it forces us to look at where the problems are.

"If we expect high achievement, then we will get it. If we have higher standards, then it's more likely that we'll be successful," he said.

In light of the fact that this is the first year that seniors may not graduate if they don't pass their SOL's, Fischer believes that having standards helps to reduce the drop-out rates by identifying problems earlier on.

"The state has taken major steps to make sure that children will be successful," said Fischer.