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Failing NCLB grades will not hinder West Fargo Public Schools

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To say the least, the news was bleak: of the more than 450 schools in North Dakota, less than half managed to make Adequate Yearly Progress during the 2010-11 school year under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

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And just like their educational counterparts, West Fargo Public Schools was not immune to this. Of the district's schools:

• Eastwood Elementary and L.E. Berger Elementary failed to make AYP and will be required to be the focus of further efforts to improve learning. The Schools already were in program improvement.

• West Fargo High School, Cheney Middle School, Aurora Elementary, Horace Elementary and Westside Elementary must distribute their AYP report to parents because they currently do not receive Title I funds.

• West Fargo High School has been identified for program improvement and now must take further efforts to improve achievement.

One silver lining came at South Elementary School, which was removed from Title I program improvement status after making AYP for two years in a row.

But to Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis, the news of her district's overall failings was not much of a surprise, and the only option for school administration and staff is to follow the rules and move on.

"The next step for us is to continue to follow the guidelines as set forth by the federal government," she said. "We don't have a choice with that."

Therefore, West Fargo Public Schools will continue to work toward students becoming proficient in the core content areas of reading, math and science, Dardis said, even if actually making the 100 percent proficiency goal by 2013-14 seems more than farfetched.

But frustrations with AYP abound, however, and until a more realistic model is rewritten, "we probably won't see relief," she said.

Currently, AYP tracks subgroups - race, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners - to determine whether a school or district has satisfactory student achievement. This is gauged on a percentage of each subgroup's proficiency, and in order to successfully meet NCLB standards, all subgroups must reach the standard. If one fails, the district or school still receives an "F."

"The reason we have some frustrations is when we have overall proficiency of 88 percent, 84 percent," but still fail to make AYP, Dardis said.

To Dardis and other administrators, a program that monitors growth instead of proficiency would be much more realistic.

"We may have portions of our (student) population that make dramatic growth, and we jump up and down for joy when we see that. But because they haven't met proficiency, we get a failing grade," Dardis said.

And simplification of the entire process would be a huge relief.

"There are (approximately) 300 categories in which schools must meet AYP," Dardis said.

But to say that West Fargo Public Schools has not had seen some positives from NCLB would not be accurate. In fact, because of the pressure on the district to meet AYP, diligence to among staff is at an all-time high.

"It's made us hyper-vigilant," Dardis said. "It's really focused our instruction."

And the district has seen major improvement. When NCLB first began in 2001-02, many of West Fargo's schools were at the 50-60 percentiles in reading and math, Dardis said.

"Now a majority are at the 70-80 percentiles," she said.

Until NCLB and AYP are changed, however, districts across the country will be under the gun to make 100 percent proficiency in less than two more years.

"We knew it would be a challenge," Dardis said. "But we've come a long way."

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