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Friday, August 22, 2003

Westport and its Schools Now Faced With PR Problem

Westports reputation for its top-notch school system is a bit tarnished today thanks to a state Department of Education list that lumps the town with failed school systems across the state.

School officials said the listing came as a complete surprise and was due to one student failing to take a test at Bedford Middle School.

TodayҒs New York Times illustrates the problem. A Hartford-datelined report in the newspapers metropolitan section headlined ғLagging Public Schools Listed began this way:

ԓThe State Education Department yesterday listed 149 public elementary, middle and high schools, some in such affluent towns as West Hartford and Westport, that do not meet federal standards for basic subjects like reading and mathematics.”

The report, while appearing on the newspaper’s Web site, did not appear, however, in editions delivered to Westport homes this morning.

An Associated Press story Thursday on the list of schools that failed to meet minimum standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind law similarly cited Westport prominently.

Neither the Times nor The AP differentiated Westports failure for a non-academic reason from those schools that failed on academics.

But reports in three of Connecticut’s largest newspapers this morning—Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven—did make the distinction. None noted, however, that Westport’s appearance was because of one student not taking a test.

Schools Supt. Elliott Landon told WestportNow, in effect, that the state list was a bum rap for Westport. The problem, he said, had everything to do with how many Westport students took a test and nothing to do with academics.

The stateҒs Web site which carried the complete list of failed schools supported Landons view. It clearly said WestportҒs appearance on the list was because of a failure in the participation-onlyӔ category.

Landon explained that Westport had a 94 percent participation rating because one of Bedford Middle Schools 48 students with disabilities had failed to take a Connecticut Mastery Test. The precise reason was not known, he said, but could have been attendance-related.

A minimum 95 percent participation rate was required under the federal law.

Landon said WestportҒs inclusion on the list for a non-academic reason demonstrates clearly only one of the many problems associated with the No Child Left Behind Act.”

He said he had no inkling Westport would be on the list released Thursday. “It was as much a surprise to us as to everyone else,” he told WestportNow today.

The Connecticut Post, printed in Bridgeport, reported today: “Bedford Middle School in Westport is on the list because less than 95 percent of the student body or any subgroup did not take the test.”

Today’s New Haven Register reported: “However, there were also some unlikely appearances (on the list). Bedford Middle School in affluent Westport made the list because too few of its students participated in the 2002 exam. “

The Hartford Courant said: ” Even Westport, one of the state’s wealthiest towns, has a school on the list because it failed to test enough of its students.”

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Posted 08/22/03 at 10:05 AM  Permalink



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