Corridor districts not immune to NCLB impact

Sanctions increase as benchmark standards rise

Kathleen Ziegler (from left), instructional coach, talks with Nancy Buckley, a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher, during a co-planning session at Grant Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, April 11, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Kathleen Ziegler (from left), instructional coach, talks with Nancy Buckley, a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher, during a co-planning session at Grant Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, April 11, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The sanctions resulting from No Child Left Behind complicate what’s already a difficult situation for the Iowa City Community School District.

The school system has six Title I SINA (Schools in Need of Assistance) buildings — Coralville Central, Kirkwood, Hills, Lucas, Twain and Grant Wood elementary schools. Penn, Garner, Lemme and Longfellow — though the latter only has the designation for reading proficiency — elementary schools are also in the SINA category but are not Title I buildings.

“The reality is we will not meet the goal of 100 percent students proficient, not total or in subgroups,” Curriculum Director Pam Ehly said. “The implication is that we will continue to have schools put on the list.”

RELATED: No Child Left Behind's 100 percent requirement hard to meet

When a Title I building earns SINA status, districts must offer parents the option to send their students to another district building that is not in need of assistance and provide transportation to that school. For a district such as Iowa City, which is among the state’s fastest growing and where administrators are working to improve facilities to accommodate those enrollment increases, that sanction presents another obstacle in making sure every student has a seat.

“Ironically, the schools we can transfer children to are our biggest with the highest enrollment and we’d closed off enrollment to them. ... We’re not going to put 50 kids in a classroom. It just doesn’t work,” Ehly said.

Also complicating the issue is the district’s diversity plan, which aims to adjust enrollment at each school to reduce large gaps in populations of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

“What could happen is some schools that were Title I might not be and some schools that aren’t Title I may become Title I,” Ehly said.

“It’s like a revolving door. The number of students in a building with the qualifications for Title I can really change.”

Not only that, but the district could have to invest in more temporary classrooms in order to accommodate those students, Ehly said though she did not know what the potential price tag would be.

The district could use existing modular classrooms, but Ehly said there would be a cost in moving them and setting them up.

Ehly also said that the number of students requesting tutoring or remediation — known officially as supplemental educational services — is likely to increase. Those state-approved interventions, as well as transportation, are available free of cost to students who attend SINA schools.

State dollars are supposed to cover those costs and Ehly’s concern is that, as more schools become SINA, the need will surpass the funding.

“We look at children with the greatest need and they will get served first,” Ehly said.

Not all bad

Val Dolezal, executive director of prekindergarten through eighth grade for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, also forecast that more of that school system’s buildings would reach SINA status.

“Eventually all of them will be SINA, which is unfortunate,” she said.

Right now, that district alone has eight Title I elementary schools — Cleveland, Garfield, Grant, Grant Wood, Harrison, Hiawatha, Johnson and Van Buren — that are classified at SINA-4 or higher, meaning that administrators have to implement corrective actions.

Teachers in those buildings are undergoing restructuring via six-week rapid intervention cycles, which involve having the building principal or instructional coach (a classroom teacher) observe instruction and then offer feedback during that week.

“We are seeing that we are making some differences with students, with what our teachers are doing,” Dolezal said.

The district worked with national education experts on the intervention, which includes help on lesson plans, and next year administrators will expand the program to other schools with dollars from a Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant.

“Some of the work that we’re doing is beneficial to schools that aren’t SINA-4 but could be in a few years,” Dolezal said. “Why wait? Let’s start now. Let’s be proactive.”

Dolezal has some issues with the way the No Child Left Behind Act is structured, namely because “sometimes for some students it takes multiple years for that achievement gap to close,” she said, but she said that the legislation has allowed educators to examine certain aspects of learning and instruction.

“SINA is something people don’t want to talk about because it seems like a bad rap and a bad name. We do get frustrated because it’s one more sanction, but there are things that have been positive,” she said. “The work will be beneficial to many in the future.”

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