Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Grading on an upward curve — School district has harder time making Adequate Yearly Progress

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Results can be deceiving in the world of education. Low test scores may say more about a student’s ability to take a written test than their abilities overall. Likewise, the report that 10 schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District did not make Adequate Yearly Progress last year is more about changing standards than poor performance, said Sean Dusek, the district’s director of assessment

AYP results released Friday list Homer Flex, Homer High, Kenai Central High, Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, Nikiski Middle-High, Port Graham, Skyview High, Soldotna Elementary, Soldotna High and Spring Creek schools as not making AYP in the 2007-08 school year. In 2006-07, five schools did not make AYP.

According to Dusek, director of secondary education and assessment for KPBSD, the schools not making AYP had similar performances in 2006-07 and 2007-08, when many of them did not make AYP. Their level of performance didn’t decrease, but the standards by which they are judged increased.

“Overall I think the district’s schools did pretty well. We were pretty much at the same proficiency level as we were last year,” Dusek said.

AYP is the accountability function of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that mandates all students must demonstrate competence in language arts and math through written assessments given in grades three through 10. The levels of proficiency students must meet increase over the years, with all students expected to demonstrate 100 percent proficiency by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Students are lumped into nine subgroups, including ethnicity, low English proficiency and students with disabilities. Schools are judged by what percentage of their students in each subgroup, as well as their whole student body, meet the standards set for the year. A school’s test participation rate and graduation rate, if they have a 12th grade, also count toward AYP.

In the 2006-07 school year, schools were expected to show 71.48 percent proficiency in language arts and 57.61 percent in math. At those standards, seven of the schools not showing high enough proficiency in 2007-08 did make AYP the year before — Homer High, Kenai Central, Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, Nikiski Middle-High, Skyview High, Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna High.

In 2007-08, the language arts standard increased to 77.18 percent, and math increased to 66.09. Of the 10 schools not achieving AYP at the higher standards, the larger schools missed it in one category — students with disabilities, Dusek said.

“I don’t know exactly why, but I do know we took a big jump in the objectives they were supposed to meet,” he said. “The year before we made huge increases in all those schools. Compared to last year it was stable.”

Schools not making AYP face increasing levels of consequences based on how many years they have not met the set standards. Consequences range from being required to offer extra tutoring, providing busing (where feasible) to another school if parents choose to enroll their child elsewhere, and in the most severe case restructuring the entire school. Of the 10 KPBSD schools not making AYP, none face drastic consequences. Homer Flex is in its fourth year not making AYP, Spring Creek is in its third and Port Graham is in its second. All other schools made AYP the year before.

“The nice thing is the majority of those schools that didn’t make it, this is the first time they haven’t made AYP so they’re just on a watch list with no real significant corrective actions,” Dusek said. “So they’re going to just readjust their focus a little bit and if they make it (this year) they’re off the list and keep moving forward. … We have some work to do, but we focus on all students so it’s more than just one category. We want all students to improve.”
Since KPBSD has 44 schools in all, that means there were 34 bright spots in the report. Overall, KPBSD students were 87 percent proficient in language arts. Some schools in particular stood out for Dusek.

Kenai Middle, Nikiski North Star and Tebughna School in Tyonek have now made AYP two years in a row, meaning they move off the watch list for corrective action. Soldotna Middle School and Connections, the district’s home school program, made AYP for the first time in several years. Dusek also pointed to Kachemak Selo, Chapman, Homer Middle, Kenai Alternative, McNeil Elementary, Soldotna Mont-essori, Sterling Elementary, West Homer Elementary and Fireweed Charter schools as high performers.

“We did well. We hoped that we maybe had fewer schools not make it, but overall we’re very pleased with the results,” Dusek said.

KPBSD is waiting to hear their AYP results as a district, which averages in how well all students and schools do on the assessments. Last year KPBSD was the highest performing large district in the state, outpacing Anchorage, Fairbanks, Matanuska-Susitna and Juneau.

With the amount of federal importance tied into AYP status, the results are taken seriously by the school district. But no matter what the score, Dusek doesn’t take it to mean any students are failing, or that the district is finished improving.

“It’s a single snapshot in time,” he said. “There are a lot of other ways to measure proficiency for a student. There are a lot of kids that may struggle taking a paper and pencil test, but they do extremely well in other performance capacities.”

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