Pleasanton Weekly

News - September 30, 2011

PUSD Superintendent: No Child Left Behind failing

Test scores improving, but district may still face sanctions

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton school Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi is joining with other Alameda County superintendents in taking a stand against the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

A letter drafted by the Alameda County Office of Education and signed by all 17 school superintendents in the county backs Tom Torlakson, the state's superintendent, in his fight against NCLB.

Last month, Torlakson asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to provide state schools with "immediate relief from the flawed policies" of the act.

Torlakson's letter to Duncan warns that many schools with rising student achievement will be labeled as failing under the "one-size-fits-all" approach required under NCLB. In addition, the letter notes that NCLB restrictions on how districts can use funding will further burden schools already hit hard by budget state cuts.

The county letter in support of Torlakson said schools aren't looking to avoid accountability, something Ahmadi emphasized to the school board Tuesday. The letter also notes that 13 of the 17 districts -- Pleasanton included -- face potential NCLB sanctions from the federal government "despite clear evidence that student achievement levels are improving."

A review of test scores by Cindy Galbo-Lormer, assistant superintendent of educational services, does show general improvement, with schools well above the state average in all tests. According statistics provided by Galbo-Lormer, some subgroups such as African American, Latino, the socio-economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities, in general, don't perform as well as their Asian or white classmates. Those subgroups often overlap and can be small enough that just a few students' grades can skew the district's scores on standardized state tests.

Ahmadi, in both the letter to the state and to board members, said the district remains committed to educating every child. Toward that end, some 40 teachers met recently, looked at scores and new data, and decided that some students in subgroups either qualified or came close to qualifying for upper level classes, such as Algebra II or Geometry, that their peers are taking. For the others, Ahmadi said the district is taking a special approach.

"When you have kids that are struggling, you don't want to teach them different things, you want to teach them differently," she told the board.

Although the board member had some questions about the specifics laid out by Galbo-Lormer, they seemed to agree that NCLB could impose unfair standards on the district.

"Ninety-five percent of the districts up and down the state would really like to perform like Pleasanton," said board member Chris Grant.

In budget matters, state revenues are about $600 million less than conservative estimates for July and August, and the school board heard again Tuesday night that it may be facing some mid-year cuts.

Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, told board members that the drop in predicted revenue could mean triggers built into the budget could be pulled in December; that could mean cuts of up to $3.8 million in revenues for the district.

Cazares said triggers would hit schools across the state if revenues are $2 billion less than anticipated. The amount schools lose would depend on exactly how much below budget forecasts the actual revenues are.

The next indication of the revenue picture from the state will come in November from the state Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO). Cazares said usually the LAO report helps school finance officials start to prepare the budget for the following year, not the current one.

Grant said, for the short term, the district is doing well.

"I think we're well positioned in the short term," he said, adding, "things could get ugly quickly."

The board also heard an update the district's health services, and those involved were praised by Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services, for going beyond job requirements. Workers from the department made several trips to Oakland to pick up D-TaP vaccines required for students in some grades; as a result, not one student was turned away from school for lack of the vaccine.

With a two-year grant for two nurses ending this year, Johnson teachers may be required to do more for students with medical conditions.

The board also approved a deal that would improve conditions of sports fields at five schools. Under the plan, the district approved a $90,000 bid for a contractor, Sycamore Landscaping, which will bring in dirt and do maintenance on fields at Donlon, Alisal, Hart, Pleasanton and Harvest Park. The work will be paid for by the city through a new $25 fee from players on the teams that use Pleasanton sports fields, without cost to the district.

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