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Small Heartland District Juggles to Meet NCLB

A small district in Nebraska, Heartland has a limited number of staff members who have multiple responsibilities; yet, staff members are keeping up with NCLB requirements. Strong showings by students make meeting mandates easier. Included: Data on a small, rural district.

The Heartland School District in rural, southeastern Nebraska has existed for only eight years. The district was created when two small districts, Henderson and Bradshaw, merged because their enrollments were declining.

Unfortunately in the new district, enrollments have continued to decline each year. This is partly due to lower birth rates but also because families have moved out of the area in search of more stable employment.

District leaders wear several hats in districts like Heartland, and the implementation of state and federal legal requirements is a big responsibility. In a small district, the superintendent is often the sole manager/leader of facilities, finance, and instruction. Now with the enactment of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the superintendent of a small rural district has new accountability requirements for student achievement. These responsibilities can be very time consuming, but with assistance from principals and a part-time person who works with curriculum, the superintendent of Heartland finds that NCLB jobs get done. He stated, however, "the time factor is way out of proportion to the value to students and the district."

Some Heartland educators have expressed concern that the amount of testing required for NCLB takes away from teaching time. Teachers report that they do not have enough time to teach important concepts because so much has to be covered in each time period.


Still, the academic performance of Heartland students is quite good, with district students scoring among the highest in the state on 2003 assessments. Students with disabilities also tend to score well. The Heartland district has only two subgroups to consider for adequate yearly progress (AYP); low- income students and students with disabilities. The state requires subgroups to number at least 40 to be counted for AYP.

The town of Henderson, which is part of the district, is the site of a large group home for young people who are wards of the court. These students, who come mostly from large Nebraska cities and towns, are welcomed in the Heartland district. The academic performance of these students improves in the small school setting, and there is no danger that they will become school dropouts because the students are under court order to attend school as part of the state's procedures for juvenile placements in the group home.

For the purposes of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the district administers tests in grades 4, 8, and 11. These include locally developed tests in reading and mathematics and a state test in writing. Even the subgroup of students with disabilities performed quite well in 2003 at the elementary level.

On the fourth grade math test, 89 percent of students overall reached the proficient level, and the district met AYP in all areas. District staff members were also pleased that 67 percent of students with disabilities scored at the proficient level.

In eighth grade math, the percentages of students scoring at the proficient level were 84 percent for all students and 100 percent for the disabled subgroup. District officials are encouraged to see that the disabled subgroup, which represents 20 percent of the district's enrollment, can meet the expected achievement levels.

The small numbers of students as well as the wide range of disabilities and the variance in intellectual and learning capacity in the grade levels contribute to these results.

At the 11th grade level, the picture was different. Although 80 percent of all students at this grade scored at the proficient level in math, only 25 percent of disabled students achieved a proficient score.

On the reading and writing tests, both the fourth and eighth grade students scored at the 90 percent level, which the state of Nebraska considers to be exemplary.

SOURCE: Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see A Look Inside 33 School Districts: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Share Your NCLB Strategies

Education World's Working With NCLB feature highlights schools or districts with stories to share about how they are implementing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. If you have a Working With NCLB story to share, send an e-mail toEllen Delisio.