Less than a month after being notified it would be in “program improvement” under a narrow definition of federal law that Interim Superintendent David Pava called “absurd,” the New Haven Unified School District has learned it was labeled in error.
“I’m pleased to announce that we are not a program improvement district, but frankly, it bothers me to have to do so,” Mr. Pava said. “We shouldn’t have to ‘clear our name,’ so to speak, not in a district where teachers, classified employees and administrators work so hard every day to care for our students and their families.
“The New Haven community knows this is a quality school district.”
When Academic Performance Index (API) scores were released Sept. 4 by the California Department of Education, New Haven showed double-digit improvement for the third time in four years. Every sub-group improved its scores. One school, Hillview Crest Elementary, recorded a remarkable one-year gain of 71 points. Another school, Alvarado Middle, improved by 38 points.
But in special education, the District fell two students short of the benchmark for making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Because it would have been the second year in a row that the sub-group missed the benchmark – the District self-reported that one fewer child than required was tested in 2006-07 – the District was to be placed in “program improvement,” under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act.
During September, however, the state revised the reports, applying a process called "Safe Harbor" to various subgroups of special education students.
“Safe Harbor is applied when a subgroup makes a large amount of growth, even if the subgroup does not quite make the required cut points for ‘percent proficient,’" New Haven Director of Assessment and Evaluation Craig Boyan explained. Under the revised calculations, the special education subgroup – and therefore the District as a whole – met the criteria for AYP.
“As I said at the time, even though I agree that increased accountability has been good for public schools, some parts of NCLB are simply absurd, and this was a pretty good example,” Mr. Pava said. “For districts that are making good and steady progress, like ours, being labeled ‘program improvement’ would be ridiculous, as well as unfair.
“Our teachers are doing the right work, with the support of dedicated classified employees and administrators, in a community that understands the critical importance of public education,” Mr. Pava added. “‘Program improvement’ would have been a distraction that would have helped no one, especially our students, and I’m glad we don’t have that label.”