Leave no dentist behind

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By Art Trujillo

A high school play, “The Perfect Idiot,” deals with an extremely bright senior who misses all 100 items on a true-false test.

How’d he manage that? Statistical probability dictates that anyone who simply checks off every answer as “true” or every one as “false” is bound to score around 50 percent. In order to earn a perfect zero (or perfect hundred), the student obviously needs to know all the answers.

But does anybody have all the answers? Or, perhaps more appropriately, “Does anyone even know the questions?”

I refer to the just-released results that show which area schools achieved “Adequate Yearly Progress,” or AYP, as part of the No Child Left Behind act, also known as NCLB, and sometimes called “Nickelbee.”

The results show that of West Las Vegas’ nine schools, four of them, Don Cecilio Elementary, Rio Gallinas charter school, Union Elementary and Valley Elementary, met the AYP standard.

On the other side of the Gallinas, of the seven schools in the East district, only one school, Robertson High School, made it.

But what does it all mean?

It means “not bad,” when compared with hundreds of state schools. In Santa Fe, for example, only three of 31 public schools attained AYP, compared to last year’s seven.

The complex, controversial NCLB act, in effect since 2001, doesn’t provide apples-to-apples comparisons. Many factors contribute to determine the final score, and there are more than 30 ways a school can miss AYP.

They include so-called “sub groups,” such as English language learners, special education students, second-language learners, Hispanics, blacks, even Vietnamese, whose numbers exceed 25. If any one of these identified subgroups fails to make the cut (mandated by the state) the building does not make AYP. In short, it’s easy for a school to fail to earn AYP.

Attendance is important. A school can miss AYP if only because of poor attendance. Another way to miss out on AYP is via subject matter. A school may have terrific math scores, but if the reading scores are not up to the mark, the school does not make AYP.

A particular rating earned this year, for example, may not be sufficient to assure AYP next year, as some of the demands keep rising. For example a school may fail to make the AYP because of low test scores but the next year that school has to make the same percentage of proficiency as other schools that made the cut. This means that a school can have a huge gain but still not make AYP.

Small schools are at a disadvantage because so few students take the test and a few students make or break the whole district. Bigger schools also can be at a disadvantage because they have large groups of special education students and other special groups.

Imagine trying to qualify for the varsity track team and achieving a particular speed for a certain distance. That speed may have to be increased significantly the next year if the kid wants to remain on the team.

Similarly, schools need to keep improving, but some don’t make enough strides to earn that coveted — yet extremely transitory — AYP designation.

It’s reasonable for school superintendents to announce they’re proud of the schools that acquired AYP, and also proud of progress made by some of the other schools that nevertheless fell short.

Yet, something is wrong with the measuring instrument — not with the schools — when in New Mexico almost seven out of 10 schools failed this year to meet the state benchmarks.

Oddly, the designation of failing to make AYP has no effect on college admissions, grades or athletic eligibility.

The goal of NCLB is for every school to have every student be 100 percent proficient in 2014, about 37 percentage points higher than Congress and the White House.

George Bush said every student.

Yeah, right. • • •

If we can apply unattainable goals for our schools, can we do the same for dentists who, like teachers, are also licensed?

An e-mail that made the rounds recently proposes to make dentists as accountable as teachers by making every patient cavity-free by the year 2014. The e-mail suggests a simple formula in which we count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14 and 18. The average helps determine the dentist’s effectiveness.

Sure, some dentists, looking down in the mouth, may argue that they don’t all have the same clientele, that there’s more drilling needed in poverty-stricken areas than in affluent suburbia.

And the NDLB members may claim that in the slums they generally see kids for the first time only when their oral agony is intense, whereas the upper-middle class patients receive regular professional care.

And some of the Needlebee group might even use the cop-out that many rural kids drink well water, which lacks fluoride, known to prevent cavities. They insist that patients are all different.

And for as long as there have been teachers, they’ve contended that one of the joys of teaching is experiencing the individuality of students, of watching them and helping them grow. Some people would like to view school kids as homogenized rows of pegs rather than individuals. Sure, Draconian standardized tests can and do measure certain things in schools, but the results of those tests often merely allow the authorities to be punitive. And pressure to have students perform well could lead to the practice of “teaching to the test.”

If a teacher were to fail 70 percent of the students in a classroom, many people would blame the teacher for having taught so inefficiently. Yet, the state of New Mexico flunks 70 percent of the school sites in the state.

Maybe it’s time to turn the spotlight away from individual schools and point it toward NCLB.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.