Schools Must Show Steady Improvement To Avoid 'Failing'

CLEVELAND (AP) - Under a new federal education law, schools with overall academic excellence can be designated as failing even if just one group of students doesn't show yearly improvement on statewide proficiency tests.

Kilgore Elementary School in Cincinnati is one of some 800 Ohio elementary and middle schools classified as failing under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The designation comes even though the U.S. Department of Education gave the school a Blue Ribbon award last year, one of just 14 elementary schools in Ohio to receive the honor, The Plain Dealer reported Monday.

Kilgore's students as a whole fared well, but the scores for some of the subgroups didn't improve enough to meet the new requirement.

The law states that if minorities, poor children, special-education students, children who speak little or no English, or other groups don't show proficiency test improvements the school can be designated as failing.

"You could get a situation where people will pull their children out of good schools," said Mary Ronan, Kilgore's principal. "I think it's something that could hurt us the next couple of years."

President Bush championed the law as a way parents could get their children out of poor-performing schools and into better ones, and a method to prod the failing ones to improve.

But the standards are so rigorous that some observers fear that thousands of schools across the country could be identified as failing.

Estimates show between 50 percent and 80 percent of Ohio's schools will receive such a designation.

Ohio officials warn that the list that included Kilgore was full of data-coding mistakes and will be revised this summer.

Even so, educators worry that schools are not equipped to meet the federal timetable and that the new parental-choice option could leave some schools with too few pupils and others with far too many.

The law gives all schools 12 years to have every student pass the annual state math and reading tests but schools that don't show steady progress will face sanctions along the way.

"We have targets that private schools would never have," Ronan said. "I don't know of any place in the world where every child will pass every test every year."

Schools that have failed to achieve adequate progress for the last three years, for instance, must give parents the option of taking the federal money the school otherwise would have gotten for their child and using it for private tutoring with a state-approved tutor.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)