For some, school choice fails to satisfy

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For some, school choice fails to satisfy

BY JONATHAN CRIBBS<br>THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE
Published Monday, October 16, 2006 in The Island Packet  |  712 Words  |  /IslandPacket/news/local

BEAUFORT -- When the South Carolina government told Lynn Waymire this summer in a letter that the school her grandchildren attended was failing, she snatched them up and moved them to Mossy Oaks Elementary School in Beaufort. '
But last week, she found out Mossy Oaks now also is considered a failing school -- even if its test scores are substantially better -- and the school she left, St. Helena Elementary School, is back on track after meeting federal standards for improvement this year. '
Needless to say, Waymire is a little confused. '
Waymire is one of a handful of parents who took advantage of Title 1 school choice this year only to find that the schools they moved their children to also failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, the federal standard for school improvement. '
Schools that receive Title 1 money -- given to those with a high percentage of poor students -- have to offer school choice to parents if their school fails to meet AYP two years in a row. '
If the state government believes a school isn't going to make AYP for a second year, it puts a school on a preliminary Title 1 School Improvement list and has to offer parents school choice before the school year starts, despite the fact that AYP results typically aren't released until October.'
That happened this year at St. Helena, Lady's Island and Broad River elementary schools. The problem is, they ended up among the few district schools that made AYP.'
"It's really hard for parents to understand because they get a letter in the summer saying their school has failed, and then they find out that their school is part of an elite class" that passed, Lady's Island Elementary School Principal Terry Bennett said. '
Twenty-five students left those three schools for schools of choice: four from Lady's Island Elementary, 13 from St. Helena Elementary and eight from Broad River Elementary. All of them ended up at schools that failed to meet AYP this year. '
"There's only a percentage of parents who take advantage of it, so that speaks to the quality of the home school that they're in," Mossy Oaks Elementary Principal Donald Gruel said. '
The school district will continue to bus students who left those schools over the summer, but they will have to provide their own transportation next year, said Roy Stehle, the school district's director of special revenue projects. The school district spends about $15,000 to $20,000 a year to bus students who choose to leave a school in their attendance zone that hasn't met AYP two years in a row, he said. '
But AYP alone isn't a strong measurement of a school's quality, and parents shouldn't solely consider it when deciding to move their children, said Mary Briggs, assistant superintendent for academics and accountability.'
Mossy Oaks Elementary, for instance, missed AYP this year. But almost half of its students scored at least proficient or advanced on the math and English sections of the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test -- much higher than the school district average -- which is given to students in grades 3-8 and used to calculate AYP. '
"If AYP were a true picture of a school, and you want to give students the option of getting out of a failing school and into a good one, there's some merit to it," Briggs said. "But if it's not giving an accurate picture. It's a bad system." '
St. Helena Elementary Principal Christena Porter said parents also should consider the emotional impact of moving a child from one school to another. '
"Is it healthy to have a student to jump from one place back and forth?" she asked.'
Waymire said she's going to keep her two grandchildren at Mossy Oaks. Her third grandchild, a pre-schooler, also will start school there. The school is more racially diverse, she said, and she's happy with the administrators and her grandchildren's academic performance. '
She said she's glad she didn't have to rely on her backup plan. '
"I was either going to move them or I was going to home-school them," she said.