Schools may get reprieve

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &045;&045; With roughly 1,000 evacuees between them, the two area public school districts have no trouble seeing the need for relaxed federal education standards this year.

But neither has plans to take advantage of them, and neither wants its teachers, students and parents to relax at all.

&uot;There are really a lot of uncertainties out there with having so many of the evacuees here,&uot; Natchez-Adams district Superintendent Anthony Morris said. &uot;It would be a bit unfair to leave everything just like it was.&uot;

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As it is, school districts are held to a series of strict accountability standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. They have to show annual Adequate Yearly Progress or face sanctions that include bringing in private tutors, outlining improvement plans, offering school choice and ultimately handing over control.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has been willing to work with affected schools but had shown few signs of letting up on NCLB standards &045;&045; until Thursday.

Though nothing’s final, Spellings announced a plan that would not penalize Katrina-affected schools falling short of expected progress. Schools in disaster areas or with a large number of evacuees would not fall into a deeper level of school improvement based on the current year’s test scores.

Morris said he agrees with the plan, but

won’t let his schools relax.

&uot;We do not intend to let up any, at all, in what we are doing in our efforts to move up to the next level,&uot; Morris said. &uot;We are going to work hard to improve.&uot;

The Natchez schools met AYP in all categories as a district this year, but the middle school failed to meet it in any category and Natchez High didn’t meet it in reading.

Under Spellings’ plan state testing would continue as usual, just without the consequences.

Concordia Parish schools Superintendent Kerry Laster said she knows improvement will be tough this year, but she’s not giving up.

&uot;I understand that some parishes that have been closed for long periods of time need it worse than we do,&uot; she said. &uot;We are going to try to hold to the same standards we’ve held to before.&uot;

This year three Ferriday schools fell into the second level of school improvement, but that ranking was based on state accountability standards, not federal. The Louisiana state board has discussed relaxing those standards as well.

Laster and staff have said they feel confident the Ferriday schools would move out of school improvement next year, but that was pre-Katrina.

Now, larger class sizes, new students and the disruption are a worry, she’s said.

&uot;We may not make what we think we are going to make,&uot; she said. &uot;But we don’t want to abandon anything. We have to hold everybody accountable. We still need to educate those kids.&uot;