To qualify for federal school improvement funds, a high-poverty Vermont school had to replace its hard-working principal, reports Michael Winerip in the New York Times. The story blames African refugee students who speak little English for the school’s low scores. Winerip writes that 37 of 39 fifth graders are refugees or disabled, although only 22 percent of students are black.
Alyson Klein of Politics K-12 summarizes the reaction of the education blogosphere — negative — and focuses a critical element: The school’s scores are very low for all students, not just English Learners or special education students.
Winerip implies newly arrived immigrants’ scores count for No Child Left Behind purposes. That’s not true, points out This Week in Education, who adds that the principal was transferred to a job in the district office. Test scores fell during Irvine’s tenure, notes Eduwonk. Klein adds:
The story includes all of these anecdotes about the great strides Wheeler Elementary School is making in the six years since (Joyce) Irvine became principal, from offering a dental clinic to teaching kids to play the violin to offering field trips for the school’s staff to the Kennedy Center in Washington to learn more about the arts.
But can these kids read?
In 2006, 31 percent of Wheeler’s kids scored in the lowest achievement tier on reading tests. In 2010, 52 percent were in the group at the bottom. (2010 wasn’t a blip either, as the group of kids scoring at the bottom has gradually grown.) If you take out English-language learners, who have more challenges to overcome in learning to read and then taking a test, 23 percent scored at the bottom in reading in 2006, 44 percent did so in 2010. The same trend is seen for non-disabled students.
The district’s turnaround plan was to convert the school to an arts magnet, thereby attracting more middle-income students, reports the Burlington Free Press. Changing the demographics may raise overall test scores, Klein writes, but it does nothing to improve the reading, writing and math abilities of the school’s low-income students.
Will these Integrated Arts Academy students be able to read?