Federal law is a zero-sum game. Schools either meet their target or they do not. The benchmarks reward student proficiency in English and math, but require all students to be proficient in both subjects by 2014.
"Chasing the moving target of escalating benchmarks for every group of students and expecting them to all achieve those levels at the same time just crashes with the reality of what we know about teaching and learning," Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa said. "Children with different learning conditions, and in our case, different resources, it takes different amounts of time."
It's an endless game of catch-up, he said, as the targets jump 11% every year.
"The fear I guess I have is that the target continues to move," Carrizosa said. "Whether or not the rate of growth will happen fast enough to meet the targets … that's probably the thing that has superintendents around the state concerned."
State assessments measure growth year to year, which is a more precise measure to gauge student achievement, state Supt. Jack O'Connell said.
"The most accurate portrayal of a school's progress is growth," he said Monday after touring a Program Improvement school in Glendale Unified. "The metric is key."
District officials, campus administrators and teachers have continued specific, data-driven and peer-reviewed lesson plans aimed at narrowing the achievement gap between student groups, said Jan Britz, the assistant superintendent for instructional services.
The process was in place last year and helped Washington Elementary School exit Program Improvement after two years of robust academic achievement, she said.
"[They] know what's prohibiting them from being proficient in the standards," Britz said. "Teachers feel comfortable where they can say 'I want to do this, and that'll help me with this group of students I'm working with.'"
The federal system is essentially rigged, Burbank Teachers Assn. President Jerry Mullady said.
"To say that we're failing doesn't match the results that are going on," Mullady said. "There's something wrong with federal regulations, in my opinion."
For the record: An earlier version of this story misidentified Harte Middle School and Burroughs High School as receiving federal funding. They are not Title I schools and are not held to the same federal standards as Jefferson and Miller Elementary schools, which could be sanctioned for missing federal benchmarks in consecutive years.