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Schools Seek 'Safe Harbor' From 100 Percent Proficiency


Charlie Barone's reacts to the Center on Education Policy's report warning that some states will ask schools to make "rapid and steep jumps" in student achievement. (See Steep Climb to NCLB Goal for 23 States.)

Barone's headline: "100% Bull$#!%"

In the item, he explains that schools will be able to get around the achievement goals through a safe harbor. Under safe harbor, a school can make AYP by producing a 10 percentage point decrease in students who are not proficient in any subgroup or subject matter where the school fell short of its AYP goals in the previous year.

"Safe Harbor (aka the poor man’s growth model) will be the central driving force in determining which schools make AYP in the years to come," Barone writes. He produces a chart detailing how a Philadelphia school could achieve AYP under safe harbor with 61 percent proficiency in 2014. That's the year all students are supposed to be proficient, according to NCLB's lofty goal.

Eduwonk chimes in to say safe harbor is one reason "the sky won't fall" under NCLB.

Barone is correct is pointing out that schools relying on safe harbor to make AYP would never reach the goal of 100 proficiency. In fact, it's mathematically impossible. But I ask: Will it be easy for schools to meet goals under safe harbor? In schools where achievement is so low—say 90 percent of students not proficient—producing a 10 percent reduction of that amount would be extremely difficult. Even if they make their mark for one year, it'll be hard for them to do every year until 2014.

Maybe the sky won't fall. But many schools will face a steep climb over the next six years—or until Congress changes NCLB.

Other NCLB stories in the June 4, 2008, issue of Education Week:
Hurdles Remain High for English-Learners
ACT Test-Prep Backfiring in Chicago, Study Warns
‘Reading First’ Research Offers No Definitive Answers (Mike Petrilli can barely contain his excitement. I bet that Reid Lyon feels the same way.)


Safe Harbor alone may not be enough of a loophole to hide educational failure for long. It takes Safe Harbor, along with loopholes like the aggressive use of Highly Mobile exclusions, 9th grade exclusions, changed cut scores, and whatever local tricks that are available to get around an honest reckoning.

The sky may not be falling on a school's ability to make AYP, but I think it's already fallen on a teacher's ability to offer a good and meaningful education. Mr. Thompson is so right - it's just one way of hiding educational failure.

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  • Janet Beatrice: The sky may not be falling on a school's ability read more
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