Federal officials visit Frankford elementary

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon stopped in little ol’ Frankford, Del., on Jan. 10, including local students in celebrations of the past four years’ progress under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY: U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon, left, and Rep. Mike Castle read to students at Frankford Elementary School on Wednesday, Jan. 11.Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY:
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon, left, and Rep. Mike Castle read to students at Frankford Elementary School on Wednesday, Jan. 11.

President George W. Bush signed NCLB system of educational standards, accountability and assessment into law on Jan. 8, 2002. The legislation directs each of the states to set up its own system of standardized testing, granting some leeway in how state-level educators go about it.

Here in Delaware, and locally in the Indian River School District (IRSD), educators are slowly ratcheting toward 100 percent. This year, “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) required 41 percent of district students to meet the standards in math, 62 percent of students to meet the standards in English/language arts.

Next year, that will jump to 49 percent and 67 percent, respectively, and so on until 100 percent of all students are meeting the standards in math and English/language arts – per NCLB guidelines, by 2014.

Simon, a former math teacher and then administrator, called NCLB “landmark legislation for our country’s children.”

“We’ve already seen that many, many children now have a better chance to become better writers and mathematicians,” he said. “But it can’t work in isolation — this has to be a true partnership with the states.”

Simon recognized that educators face challenges in passing on the basics to diverse populations. “But they’ve accepted no excuses,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who joined Simon for the Frankford event, said there had been some instances where it had been appropriate to change NCLB, and Congress had done so. But so saying, he also said he believed in the program and would be among the supporters pushing for reauthorization in 2007.

“I will say, very strongly, we need to keep this as intact as we can,” Castle stated.

While NCLB is demanding on educators, and there are some who balked at the idea, Castle credited Delaware Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff in keeping the state’s emphasis on the program.

“She and the state Board of Education haven’t backed off at all,” he said. (Woodruff was unable to attend, but Delaware’s Deputy Secretary of Education, Nancy Wilson, appeared in her stead.)

Castle praised the IRSD as “a wonderful district” — large geographically and concomitantly populated by students of diverse academic ability.

He noted particularly Frankford Elementary’s recent receipt of the Education Trust’s “Dispelling the Myth” award. Frankford’s 455 students are ethnically split into even thirds (one third each Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic), and the children predominantly come from lower-income families. Nearly 80 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches.

But the students have debunked the idea that there’s any correlation between income or ethnicity and the ability to learn. They aced the standardized tests — hence, Dispelling the Myth.

“I’m a believer in No Child Left Behind,” Castle continued, suggesting the district’s testing to the standards had contributed to the students’ success. “This school is the epitome,” he said. “We can recognize it as a model for the whole state.”

Castle also noted Delaware’s recent success in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing — independent of NCLB, but another established benchmark.

NAEP rewarded Delaware with the highest grade in the U.S., for school climate (strength of existing charter school laws, class-size-reduction programs, low elementary school class sizes) and high marks elsewhere for improvements over the past 10 years.

Simon visited Jon Brittingham and Jan Bomhardt’s classroom, where fifth-grader Francisco Serrato presented him with a framed picture. Simon and Castle also visited Nichele Kirchner’s second-grade class, where they read “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day” to an enthralled audience.

It was a charming picture, but it didn’t dull the serious point of the day’s events, either — in the story, Diffendoofer students have to pass their tests or their school will be torn down, and then they’d all have to go to school in dreary Flobbertown.