To the unknowing - specifically, to the educracy (is that a word? it is now) in Lansing and Washington, it sounds like another story of a school district failing to meet adequate yearly progress standards under No Child Left Behind:
It comes as no surprise that the Allegan County Intermediate School District failed to meet federal requirements for progress in testing in 2004.[full disclosure: the ACISD is based in my hometown, but isn't my hometown school district]
. . .
The Michigan Department of Education recently announced a list of schools that did not achieve adequate yearly progress, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The state previously announced the progress of individual schools; now it has focused on entire districts. Adequate yearly progress is achieved when certain percentages of students achieve passing grades on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test.
Except that the ACISD has a student population not generally held to the same standards as mainstream students:
The district's only school, the development center, serves special education students who largely do not take the state assessment test on which the requirements are based.I worked at the ACISD Development Center (Nobody. Say. A. Word.) in the summer of 1984, and at the time they divided the students into four categories: Trainably Mentally Impaired, Severely Mentally Impaired, Severely Physically Impaired, and Severely Multiply Impaired. Now I'm sure the terminology has become more PC (like maybe Handi-Capable, Differently Abled, and Just Plain Screwed), but I can tell you that what Ms. Stamas said certainly would have held true in 1984: the best of the TMI students and the least impaired of the SPI students might have been able to cope with a standardized test, but it would have been pointless trying to administer such a test to any other student.
. . .
Adequate yearly progress is achieved when certain percentages of students achieve passing grades on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test. Many of the students at Allegan's development center took alternate tests instead of the MEAP. According to ACISD communications consultant Midge Stamas, only 1 percent of those alternate-test grades were admissible in determining the school's AYP.
"Some of our cognitively impaired students take the MEAP," she said. "But there is no way the majority can take it. We have alternative tests developed especially for these kinds of students.
"We definitely would've made AYP if they would've counted all of the students taking the alternative test."
You would think this would be easy to rectify, and that the ACISD wouldn't be liable for the penalty associated with not meeting AYP standards.
And you'd be wrong.
As it stands, the district was required to mail letters to the parents of every ACISD student notifying them of the district's status. There will be no federal sanctions this year for failing AYP, because it is the first year of assessment [saved by a loophole - for now. -ed.].
"We're not the only ISD facing this," Stamas said. "We're working with the state to help them understand No Child Left Behind was developed to apply to a majority of children-it doesn't fit the needs of the kinds of students attending the development center."
Martin Ackley, public information officer for the state, said the issue is being taken up at national and regional levels. "As No Child Left Behind is being implemented, these unintended consequences are being recognized," he said. "Hopefully, some adjustments can be made to better reflect what's really going on in our schools, so we don't stigmatize special education students."
Ackley said it would take legislation at the federal level to amend the discrepancy. "The state board of education has tried to address the issue, but as of yet hasn't gotten any relief to our concerns," he said.
How hard should this be to unscrew? One letter to the Department of Education saying "this school has a student population consisting of mentally and physically handicapped students; here are the kind of things we can test them on," and it should all be squared away. Is anyone optimistic that this will get fixed before next year, when the 'first offense' loophole no longer applies and the ACISD would actually suffer some real penalty?