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Back to Basics for Some Middle-Schoolers

While realizing that cutting social studies, science, and electives for some struggling students at North Tahoe Middle School so they could concentrate on math and reading could be controversial, teachers saw it as necessary to help students reach grade level. Included: Approaches to curriculum and assessment.

Tahoe-Truckee (California) Joint Unified School District began looking at numerous changes at North Tahoe Middle School when the school entered restructuring under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. This targeted-assistance Title I middle school serves approximately 350 students, 38 percent of whom are low-income and 32 percent of whom are Latino.

These measures included governance changes, grouping students by skill level, changing the schedule so that students who are behind can add extra periods of reading and math, giving teachers a half of a day each Wednesday for professional development, implementing Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a program aimed at motivating students; and adding coaches in reading, math, and English as a second language.

The revised schedules at North Tahoe Middle School mean that students who can take extra periods of math and reading do not get science, social studies, or other electives. While staff said they realized not getting these subjects was controversial, they said they believed missing a semester or two of these subjects was worth it to get students closer to grade level in reading and math.

At North Tahoe Middle School, increases in student achievement have outstripped those of the district as a whole, despite the fact that this is the districts only school in restructuring, the last sanction for schools failing to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets. From 2002-03 to 2004-05, passing rates in English/language arts have increased by about 22 percentage points. In math during the same period, the percentage passing rose by about 20 points.

Despite gains on state tests, staff at North Tahoe Middle School emphasized that the state test was just one measure of achievement. Teachers have learned to work mini-assessments into daily lessons so that they can track students learning more closely and get a better idea of what students know and dont know.

Because of Tahoe-Truckees rural location, some NCLB sanctions have not had a large effect on the district, according to district and school administrators. For example, few students have taken advantage of school choice, because it entails longer bus rides, and few providers were interested in offering on-site tutoring under NCLB. Instead, district and school officials said they have focused on changes in curriculum and instruction to improve student achievement. Staff described this focus as painful at times, but ultimately effective. As North Tahoe Middle School teacher Debby Spohr said of NCLB, Its been the best bad thing.



Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act .