Most of the 100 or so public schools in Berks County achieved federal "adequate yearly progress" this year, based on the PSSA tests.
But 20 schools didn't, including six high schools.
Most of those schools failed because special-education students did not make the mark.
The state uses http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pennsylvania_system_of_school_assessment_(pssa)/8757"> the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, or PSSAs, to measure how many students are proficient in math, reading, writing and science.
Those scores are used under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law to judge "adequate yearly progress," or AYP.
Of the 20 schools in Berks that failed to meet the AYP goals this year, the special-education subgroups failed in 18 — in itself enough to cause the whole school to miss the federal AYP mark.
Eleven of those schools were in the Reading School District.
Interim Superintendent Frank Vecchio could not be reached for comment.
Berks isn't the only county where many schools fail to achieve AYP because of the scores of special-education students, educators said.
Do those schools not do enough for students with disabilities?
Or are the tests inappropriate for special-education students?
America should set high standards for all its students, said Bernie Miller, director for education services at the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a teachers union.
But the assessment system needs to acknowledge that some students will never achieve proficiency, he said.
The law requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in major study areas by 2014.
"So the system is set up in a way that would challenge anyone [school] to meet the requirements," Miller said.
On the other hand, Steve Weitzman, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said poor scores by special-education students show that districts need to give them more attention.
Reflecting the education community's love of acronyms, the subgroup of special-needs students is designated "IEP" for "individualized education program."
"IEP is one of the subgroups where schools need to pay attention," Weitzman said. "This is where you need to focus your efforts. Some districts are turning that [poor scores by IEP students] around."
It's a wake-up call to focus more resources on students who need special education, Weitzman said.
"Testing is here to stay," Weitzman said. "There are expectations. It's the law of the land. You can't just say, ‘We can't focus on this because it's too hard.' "
Generally, about 15 percent of children have disabilities that put them in the special-education subgroup.
The level averaged 15.4 percent in Berks in the 2008-2009 year, ranging from 13.4 in Daniel Boone School District to 21 percent in Kutztown School District.
All but a tiny percentage of students — those with the most serious disabilities — are required to take the PSSAs.
Some students with special needs may take modified PSSA tests, called PSSA-M tests, for "modified," or PASA tests — the Pennsylvania Alternative System of Assessment.
They are designed to make it easier to take the tests, but they test the same grade-level content.
The federal No Child Left Behind act requires special-education students to be tested at their grade level, said Timothy Allwein, assistant executive director with the Pennsylvania School Board Association.
"In our view, NCLB is making an unrealistic expectation of special-education students," he said.
Schools that don't meet the AYP goal face sanctions, which get stricter for each year of noncompliance.
"The most public is you get put on the list that you didn't make AYP," said Allwein.
After two years, schools must allow parents to transfer their children to other public schools. School officials must develop a school improvement plan and provide more teacher professional development.
After three years, schools must provide eligible students with supplemental services, generally tutoring.
After four years: schools must take corrective action such as replacing school staff, adopting new curriculum or extending the school day.
After five years, schools face takeover by the state or a private education business.
To avoid this, schools may need expensive remedies - hiring more teachers and aides, having fewer children in classes, or spending more time preparing students for the tests.
Special-education is expensive. The average per-pupil expenditure is 2.3 times higher for a student in special education than for a student in regular education, according to the Berks County Intermediate Unit, which provides services to county districts.
Berks schools that failed to make the federal AYP benchmark in 2010
- Mount Penn Elementary Center: special-education group failed reading
- High school: special-education group failed math; economically disadvantaged group failed reading
- West Elementary: economically disadvantaged group failed reading
- Birdsboro Elementary Center: special-education group failed reading
- High school: special-education group failed reading and math
- High school: special-education group failed reading and math; economically disadvantaged group failed math
- High school: economically disadvantaged group failed reading and math
- Middle school: special-education group failed reading
- High school: students overall, Hispanics and economically disadvantaged groups failed math
- High school: All groups failed math; all groups except white non-Hispanics failed reading
- Northeast Middle School: special-education group failed reading
- Northwest Middle School: special-education group failed reading
- Southwest Middle School: special-education group failed reading and math; English-language learners failed math and reading
- Gateway School Of International Business and World Languages: special-education and economically disadvantaged groups failed math and reading
- School of Technology and Communication: special-education group failed math
- 16th and Haak Elementary: special-education group failed reading
- 10th and Green Elementary: special-education group failed reading
- 13th and Green Elementary: special-education group failed reading and math
- 13th and Union Elementary: special-education group failed reading and math
- 12th and Marion Elementary: special-education group failed reading and math