By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Parents of students in Havre schools were given some homework of their own Thursday night, as Havre Public Schools asked for help to ensure it meets tough new federal education guidelines.
"We need you," HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller told the parents. "Please get your child to school every day and have them prepared for learning when they leave the house."
About 90 parents, Havre School Board members, area legislators and community members attended last night's community forum on No Child Left Behind, President Bush's education policy that was signed into law in January 2002. The forum was intended to explain the intricacies of the new law and tell the community what HPS is doing to comply.
No Child Left Behind sets strict standards for attendance and graduation rates, participation rates for standardized tests and reading and math scores on those tests. It requires those standards not only for a school as a whole, but for subgroups within each school and district, including minorities, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities - a total of 55 targets altogether. Schools that fail to meet the requirements in any of the subgroups face sanctions beginning the second year of non-compliance. The sanctions increase each additional year a school does not make the grade, and may include a loss of funding and a replacement of faculty and administration.
At Thursday's forum, Miller presented a variety of things parents can do to help the district meet the standards, like providing a quiet place for children to do homework, asking them about school and their homework assignments every day, and not scheduling family vacations during testing dates. This year those tests will occur from March 29 to April 15.
Miller said this morning he thinks about half of those attending the forum were parents. He said he would have liked a better turnout, but that he appreciates the time of those who did attend.
In August, the state Office of Public Instruction released lists of schools and districts that did not meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind this year. Havre Middle School, Havre High School and Sunnyside Intermediate School were the Havre schools on the list at that time.
The Havre school district appealed to OPI to review Sunnyside's inclusion on the list - based on two subgroups that OPI said did not meet the required 95 percent participation rate in standardized tests.
At the forum Miller said the district found out Thursday from OPI that there was an error, and Sunnyside has been removed from the list.
HPS Assistant Superintendent Dennis Parman, who presented the details of No Child Behind at the forum, said that this year the district will know the targets it must hit ahead of time, so it will be more likely to make the standards in all schools.
All week, students in grades three through eight have been taking practice reading and math tests to help teachers find out which areas students need to work on before some grades take standardized tests in April. No Child Left Behind this year will look at test scores of grades four, eight and 10.
The students will take similar preparation tests in January to gauge their progress.
After the forum, third-grade teacher Dusty Toth said the tests will help him identify his students' weaknesses and strengths.
"These tests match our curriculum and what we teach on, so whatever my students need help on, I'm going to have to find ways to meet their needs."
Parents had mixed reactions to what they heard.
Paula Beilke, who has a son in Havre Middle School and one in Havre High School, said it frustrates her that local schools have been given new requirements without the federal funding necessary to implement them.
She said she doesn't have any problems with the tests her children will be taking this year, but that the law won't work unless parents are involved.
"The parents need to be on this right along with the kids," she said, adding that she didn't think the turnout for the forum was very good.
Kristy Fox, who has two children in Havre schools, said she thought there are good parts to the law, but that it will be very challenging for the community.
"I think it's doable, but it's going to take some more parental involvement," she said.
Fox said her larger concern, though, is that with all the emphasis on struggling students, those ahead of the curve will suffer.
"I'm afraid there's going to be so much focusing on those below the median that they're going to bring the kids that could excel down to that median," she said.
A handful of HHS students also attended.
"I think it's going to be good for the students," said Jennifer Anderson, 17, who attended the forum as part of her government class. She said she doesn't think teachers will focus on testing.
"I just think they're going to focus on overall education," she said.
Not only Havre parents and educators showed up.
Lorena WritingBird, the parent of two daughters attending school at Rocky Boy, said has been to a workshop about the law before, and she supports it.
"I'm old fashioned," she said. "I think the schools need to be held accountable."
WritingBird said she thinks the school district at Rocky Boy should hold a similar forum for the parents there.
Bill Parker, the Superintendent of Malta Public Schools, said he was attending the meeting to find out more about how to implement the law.
"Havre Public Schools has an outstanding plan to address these issues," he said. "I'm here to learn."
Parker said he agrees with he law in principle, but its requirement that 100 percent of all students test advanced or proficient in math, reading and science by 2014 is unrealistic.
"That math of it is unbelievable at this point," he said.
Parker said that a requirement that teachers only teach subjects they have a degree in will be very difficult for Malta, which like many rural schools in the state, has broad-field science majors teaching more than one science subjects.
"We have recruited them for a long time," he said, adding that often those teachers are most effective.
Hutterite colonies that have their own public schools will face their own unique challenges meeting the law's requirements.
"I think it's hugely misguided," said Bob Ward, the English teacher at East End Colony School. "... Trying to apply one tool across the board won't work. We're not cut out of the same cloth."
Ward said for students in Hutterite colonies, the law's emphasis on standardized tests is problematic because of cultural bias in the tests. He gave an example of standardized test questions that ask what happened on a student's street. "Well they (Hutterites) don't have streets," he said.
If East End is eventually granted its own publicly-funded school, it would have to meet the new standards, Ward said. Still, he said the colony would at least like to have the opportunity to measure up.
Miller gave some other suggestions of things Havre parents can do to help the district meet the law:
Make sure children get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast every morning.
Make sure kids get regular health and dental check-ups.
Be positive about school to children. Don't say things that will turn them away from learning.
Limit children's exposure to television and video games.
Attend back-to-school nights and parent/teacher nights.
Contact teachers promptly with any concerns.
Volunteer in their children's schools regularly or occasionally.