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Arlington Schools Brace for 'No Child'

Six elementary schools may be required to offer private tutoring services for low-income students.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, elementary schools in Virginia with a high percentage of poor students are required to meet test score targets in math and English — or face expensive sanctions.

In Arlington County, six out of 13 high-poverty elementary schools are facing a third year of sanctions.

The six schools will be required to offer private tutoring at taxpayer expense if they do not make "Adequate Yearly Progress" this year under No Child Left Behind, which requires 65 percent of all student groups to pass Standards of Learning reading tests and 63 percent to pass math tests.

Each of the six elementary schools — Abingdon, Barcroft, Barrett, Carlin Springs, Hoffman-Boston and Randolph — are already required to offer students the choice of transferring to a higher performing school.

"Even if some of those six schools make AYP, this year they will still have to offer school choice," said Mark Macekura, coordinator of special projects for Arlington Public Schools.

For the upcoming school year, Arlington's school system budgeted $475,000 to pay for the private tutors to low-income students and school choice opportunities for all 2,353 students enrolled at the six high-poverty schools.

Last year, few families chose to transfer out of their elementary school. Though the offer was extended to 2,500 families, only 28 students from 21 families decided to attend another school.

In all, Arlington school officials are projecting that No Child Left Behind will cost $1.7 million in local funds during the upcoming school year.

ARLINGTON SCHOOLS are expecting an announcement from the Virginia Department of Education next Thursday that will indicate how well each school performed on last spring's Standards of Learning tests.

In order to achieve AYP, an individual school must meet 29 specific test performance objectives for different student groups, including white, black, Hispanic, special education and poor students.

Arlington's 13 high-poverty schools face tougher sanctions under No Child Left Behind because they receive federal Title I funds to help instruct students. In Virginia, elementary schools are eligible for Title I funds when at least 35 percent of the student population receives free or reduced price lunch.

Every one of the six Title I elementary schools that failed to make AYP last year had made significant gains over the previous school year. For example, during the 2002-2003 school year, Barrett Elementary School fell short of 11 goals under No Child Left Behind. Last year, Barrett only missed four goals — and not by much.

Overall, the Arlington school system has also improved. In 2002-2003, the school system did not meet 15 academic objectives required under the law. But a year later, it only missed one target — only 53 percent of students with disabilities passed the reading test, while the goal was 61 percent.

ANOTHER REQUIREMENT under No Child Left Behind is that 100 percent of each school district's teachers must be "highly qualified." In Virginia, that means teachers in every subject except physical education and vocational training must be fully licensed in their subject area.

In Arlington's 30 schools, roughly 94.5 percent of teachers are considered "highly qualified."

This September, families in Title I schools must be notified within 20 days if their children are being taught by teachers who are not "highly qualified."

Superintendent Robert Smith said many of Arlington's teachers who are not fully licensed in their subject area are still excellent educators. Expecting that 100 percent of teachers would be "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind sets schools up for failure, her said.

"We all certainly agree with the principles of the law," Smith said. "None of us would ever say that we don't think all students should be expected to succeed. But the way [No Child Left Behind] asks us to get there isn't always reasonable."

Similarly, the law requires that every student pass math and reading tests by the 2013-2014 school year.