The teacher who wrote this post reequired anonymity, for obvious reasons:

I am writing to tell you about a situation at my school — Shea High in Pawtucket, RI.

At the start of last year, both Shea and Tolman High (the only two non-charter public high schools in Pawtucket) were told that they had failed to make AYP as per NCLB and would have to undergo transformation. Note that since RI has accepted RttT, last year was the last possible year that this could have happened.

Despite high poverty, transience, ESL population, etc. the only AYP target that Shea had failed to meet was for graduation rate. It had remained stagnant at about 59% for three years, just barely failing to meet the target of 60%.

When the announcement was made last year that we were to undergo transformation, we were told that this would involve at the very least the removal of our principal (a fantastic, very bright, and driven man who had been principal for about ten years and whose leadership was one of the greatest reasons we had managed to make AYP in every other required category). As we had only failed to make AYP by a fraction of a percent, and we knew that a high transience rate contributed greatly to our low graduation rate, teachers and other stakeholders scrambled to locate students who had simply disappeared over the years.

At this point I should interject that under NCLB, RIDE [Rhode Island Department of Education] had been given some leeway in determining how many years a school had to make AYP before transformation was necessary. The decision to limit the number of years to three had been made AFTER our three year stagnation streak had begun. Think of that what you will.

I was one of those teachers scrambling to locate lost students in the hope of finding some who had actually graduated but had been labelled dropouts because the school system had lost track of them. Every student counted as we were only off by a fraction of a percent. I was able to find one, a boy from Ethiopia whose sister had taken an ESL class of mine. The family had moved from Rhode Island to North Dakota and he had graduated from high school there.

In the end, we were able to prove that our graduation rate had actually risen above 60% for one of the three years of stagnation. Unfortunately, RIDE refused to accept this new data, claiming that it was “too late” to take it into consideration (my first thought was to wonder if it would also have been considered “too late” to consider new data if we had been caught cheating, but I digress). Transformation would go ahead as planned. Our principal, Dr. Christopher Lord — an excellent, dedicated administrator with a great reputation in education circles around our small state — was out.

At a recent meeting with our transformation director, I learned that the baseline graduation rate used in our transformation plan was 67%. This seemed very strange to me, as our school was in transformation specifically because its graduation rate was below 60%. At first I had thought that the graduation rate for the third year of stagnation had been altered upwards due in part to the work teachers had done locating missing graduates, and I was livid.

When I asked at the meeting, our transformation director originally indicated that this was the case. However, after further research it seems that the transformation director (who was not in the system last year and could not have remembered the mad scramble for data I mentioned above) may not have fully understood my question.

After consulting several officials and reading the transformation document, I learned that the baseline was 67% because that was the most recent year data was available for — 2011, the year AFTER the three year stagnation. I also learned that the sudden “jump” in graduation rate was due to new methodologies being used downtown which resulted in a more accurate picture of who had actually graduated from high school.

I still have some serious issues with our transformation situation.

First, there is the fact that RIDE’s decision to limit the number of years schools had to raise their graduation rates to three years came sometime in the middle of our three year stagnation. I know that “fair” is a four-letter word, but something doesn’t smell right about this.

Second — why did Pawtucket decide to implement a new, more accurate system for determining graduation rate at the WORST possible time? One year earlier and we would have shown more than adequate growth and been off the hook; one year later and we would have had a much lower baseline graduation rate from which to determine a transformation target. Whoever made this call was either asleep at the wheel or not interested in seeing Shea and Tolman succeed at transformation.

Finally — given our baseline of 67% graduation rate, it was decided that our transformation target should be 78% by 2014-2015 and 80% by 2015-2016. To put this into context, the RI state average graduation rate is currently 77%, and this is almost sure to go down as we implement Gist’s plan to require all students to get a 2 or more on the NECAP in order to graduate. Even if the average graduation rate does NOT go down, it is possible that Shea — one of the poorest and most challenged high schools in the state — will raise its graduation rate to higher than the state average but still fail to hit its transformation target because it doesn’t beat the state average BY ENOUGH.

We have been told, over and over, that if we do not meet the transformation targets then it is likely that we will all be fired and only 50% of us will be hired back. I do not personally believe that Pawtucket or RIDE wants to do this, because if they had wanted to do it they could have done so last year when they chose instead to go with transformation. What I fear will come to pass is that Shea will fail (by design) to meet its transformation targets and teachers will be taken aside and told that Pawtucket and RIDE have agreed to do them a BIG FAVOR — they will be allowed to keep their jobs, but only if some MAJOR concessions are made.

Or maybe they will fire us all and agree to rehire 100% of teachers who will sign a new contract that the union hasn’t been consulted on. Of course these last thoughts are just idle ones, but they do concern me.