AUBURN — About 1,000 children are eligible to switch schools because three of the city's six elementary schools — Park Avenue, Sherwood Heights and Washburn — failed to meet federal math guidelines.
Last Friday, parents were sent letters informing them of the schools' status as "continuous improvement priority schools," meaning less than 70 percent of students at each of the schools had reached proficiency in fall 2010 tests.
They had missed the federal goal for the second year in a row.
So far, five parents have requested that their children switch schools, Superintendent Katy Grondin said Wednesday. More have called with questions about the scores, their meaning and what comes next for the schools.
Plans call for the creation of formal school improvement plans, teams to monitor child progress on a weekly basis and more professional development for teachers.
Parents have until Aug. 30 to request a move to one of Auburn's passing schools: Walton, East Auburn and Fairview.
"We're hoping that they will choose to stay where they are," Grondin said. She said she hopes the relatively small number of requests she has received so far is a sign that people are taking the news calmly.
"Perhaps it's a sign that people trust that our schools are doing a good job," she said.
School Committee Chairman David Das blamed the federal sanction on the increasingly tough standards of the Bush administration No Child Left Behind law.
"Schools were set up to fail," Das said.
Since the 1,200-page law was signed in 2002, schools have been asked to either meet increasingly high benchmarks or show improvement in their lowest test scorers. It watches math and reading achievement scores and has increased the proficiency benchmark by 10 percentage points each year for the past several years. By 2014, the law mandates 100 percent proficiency.
Last year, 68 Maine schools were labeled "continuous improvement priority schools." This year, 130 schools were designated as CIPS, said Shelly Mogul, who oversees No Child Left Behind issues for Auburn schools.
Numerous calls to administrators in Lewiston seeking comment on whether its schools were cited were unanswered Wednesday. Many administrators were on vacation.
In Auburn, administrators presented a computer slide show to the School Committee on the issue.
"Wasn't this predicted five or six years ago?" asked committee member Thomas Kendall.
Several states have been appealing elements of the federal law. This spring, a Washington, D.C., initiative would have eliminated the school choice provision.
As it stands, parents can choose to send their children to one of the passing schools; however, they can't decide which one. The form sent to Auburn parents gives them a chance to rank their choices among the three.
And though a child who moves between the schools must be transported by the School Department, the department can steer kids toward closer schools.
Issues such as class size, however, cannot be taken into account, according to the law.
"It's school choice, but it's not choice of schools," Grondin said.
Committee member Bonnie Hayes said she worried that the test scores and their effects will give people a wrong idea of the schools, their successes and the effect of school spending.
"The perception is that it's a big black hole we're pouring money into and that's just not the truth," she said.
Mogul warned people not to make snap judgments about the schools based on the scores. The way the system works, schools can be penalized while testing higher than some schools that are not penalized, if they have shown modest growth among the worst scorers.
That, too, has caused groups to call for the law to be changed.
"Without looking at individual test scores, you can't make judgments," Grondin said.