OTTUMWA — Nearly two out of three schools across Iowa have been placed on the naughty list for failing to reach a federal requirement on a reading and math proficiency test. So Ottumwa officials weren’t shy about pointing out that one of their schools has actually climbed off that list.
“Wilson Elementary has been removed from the Schools in Need of Assistance list in the area of math due to our student achievement,” said Jody Williams, the principal there.
The No Child Left Behind law orders that 94 percent of students in school be able to pass standardized math and reading exams. Next year, it will be 100 percent. A small number of students who are severely disabled may be excused on a limited basis but not students with learning disabilities or those who arrive from a foreign country not speaking English.
In fact, educators say, the law doesn't take into account where a child started or how much progress they have made that year.
State Education Department Director Brad Buck called the system "unfair," the Associated Press reported this week.
He said results show the program is a bad fit for states and needs to be revised. Buck says the current system doesn’t acknowledge different needs, nor does it reward schools making progress with disadvantaged students.
In Ottumwa and other districts, students coming from low-income homes, on average, score considerably lower than their wealthier peers. Wilson school does have challenges: 95 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. And about a third of their students are English Language Learners (ELL).
"It has to do with expectations," said Williams. "Other places, that [demographic] may be considered an obstacle. Here, it’s not."
The difference, said Superintendent Davis Eidahl, was clearly the extra effort by teachers at the school, which he's seeing in schools around the district. So what did those teachers do differently?