OAKLAND -- More than 50 East Bay schools and 913 throughout California were added on Wednesday to a growing list of schools that have failed to keep pace with the moving academic targets of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The results were released as part of the California Department of Education's annual test score report, which also includes the latest composite test scores for each school.
In Alameda County, 152 schools -- about two-thirds of the schools that receive federal aid for children in poverty -- could soon be required to put in place a host of federally prescribed interventions, if they haven't already. The high-performing Fremont Unified and three of its elementary schools appeared on the watch list this year, as did schools in 12 other districts, including Albany, Pleasanton, San Leandro and New Haven.
"We just couldn't keep up with the expected pace," Fremont Superintendent Jim Morris said. "We have good schools, and we have good kids, but the targets are pretty aggressive."
The 2001 federal school accountability law requires schools with large numbers of children in poverty to bring every student to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. Those that fail to do so are subject to an escalating set of interventions that eventually includes such options as replacing a school's teachers and principal.
The act is four years overdue for a congressional reauthorization. Some, including California's superintendent of public instruction, are calling for relief from the law's requirements.
"Relief is needed immediately before more schools suffer for another school year under inappropriate labels and ineffective interventions," state Superintendent Tom Torlakson wrote in a letter sent last week to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In mid-September, the U.S. Department of Education plans to release the details of a plan to waive some of the federal mandates -- but only for states that agree to yet-unspecified education reforms, said the federal agency's press secretary, Justin Hamilton.
It's unclear whether California will apply for the waiver. Last week, in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, Torlakson said he was concerned that states would first be required to adopt reforms such as new evaluation systems for teachers and principals. He urged federal officials to freeze NCLB sanctions for the state's schools without such conditions.
A written response from Hamilton suggested the superintendent's request would not be granted.
"Up until now, states only option was to obey the law," Hamilton wrote. "They will soon have a second option -- to pursue flexibility in exchange for reforms that drive student achievement. There is no third option."
Dublin Superintendent Stephen Hanke said while the district strives to have all students proficient and above, meeting the goal by 2014 is highly unlikely.
"Is it realistic to assume all students will be there by 2014?" Hanke said. "I would say no."
Hayward's Longwood Elementary School exited the federal watch list last year, but only after a major reorganization in which the principal and most of the teachers were replaced. Fernando Yanez, Longwood's new principal, said he believes the pressure of No Child Left Behind might have contributed to the school's test score growth.
"The question is whether Longwood would have achieved what we have had the restructuring not happened, if we didn't feel the pressures," he said. "What would the school have done, continued to decline? I don't know, and once it's done, you can't rewind and do it over."
Marco Franco, the principal of Sobrante Park Elementary School in East Oakland, experienced déjà vu this week. His school, which in 2006 was one of the few to make it off the list after hitting the federal targets, is now back on. Without the extra funding provided to struggling schools, he said, he was forced to gut some of the programs that led to its achievement, such as working with students who were below grade-level before school.
Franco said while he doesn't like his school to be labeled as failing, he hopes that he will soon have more resources for programs and staffing levels that will help his students succeed. Last year he had 10 teachers; this year he has only eight but for the same number of children.
When No Child Left Behind is reauthorized, Franco said, he hopes it will provide an additional two years of financial support to schools, like his, that have made great strides.
For now, he said, "I want to make sure the school turns around again."
Staff Writers Matthew Artz, Eric Kurhi and Eric Louie contributed to this report.