Archive for Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Public schools in Baldwin stay on notice

Progress toward improvement not enough under new standards

August 13, 2003


— Baldwin's school district was one of seven in Kansas listed Tuesday as needing help from the state because it did not make enough progress toward improving students' reading and math scores.

Those districts were the first in Kansas designated "on improvement" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The report submitted to the Kansas State Board of Education showed seven of 302 school districts and 33 of 1,400 public schools in Kansas were in need of outside assistance.

Baldwin schools Supt. Jim White said he was baffled by the designation for his district, and Lawrence school officials said the education reform act would probably disintegrate once the number of U.S. public schools and districts found wanting grows dramatically in years ahead.

"Can we calculate how long it will take for this whole policy framework to collapse?" said Rich Minder of the Lawrence school board.

Neither the Lawrence district nor any of its 21 schools earned the "on improvement" tag. However, the state continues to evaluate testing information, and the status of schools and districts could change.

Results of statewide exams in reading, math, social studies and science were released at the state board's meeting in Topeka.

Only assessment scores in reading and math are tied to No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration initiative mandating all U.S. public school students be proficient in both of these core subjects by 2014.

Schools, districts and states not reaching annual increases in student test performance set by the state face sanctions under the federal law.

'A little baffling'

In Baldwin, the state will intervene with technical assistance in an attempt to improve student performance.

White, the Baldwin superintendent, said he found it odd his entire district could be on improvement for not sufficiently increasing reading scores of students with disabilities though none of the district's individual schools were in the same fix.

"It's a little baffling that all your schools make AYP (adequate yearly progress) ... but the district doesn't," he said. "I was told that's one of the anomalies."

Improvement must be sustained for two consecutive years for the district to get off the list.

Of the seven districts targeted for state intervention this year, only Baldwin failed to make adequate progress in 2002-03. The remaining six districts were on improvement in 2002 but showed adequate improvement in test scores this year.

Statewide results

In addition to reporting which schools, districts and states were placed on improvement for not making adequate progress for two consecutive years in reading and math, the law requires identification of those that don't make adequate progress for one year. Those schools are watched because they're in danger of requiring state intervention.

Adequate progress is calculated for all students in a school, district or state. And it must be tracked for 10 subgroups of students in each school, district or state. Those groups include children with disabilities, children living in poverty and children in specific racial or ethnic minority groups.

"There is no leaving out any population any more," Alexa Pochowski, deputy commissioner of education for learning services, told the state board.

Kansas as a whole failed to show enough progress toward improving black students' reading scores. While the percentage of black 10th-graders who had proficient, advanced or exemplary reading skills grew from 27.3 percent in 2002 to 33.3 percent in 2003, it was not close enough to the benchmark of 44 percent.

Forty-three of 302 school districts missed the adequate progress threshold in at least one category. That list included Perry-Lecompton, Baldwin, De Soto, Olathe, Manhattan, Emporia, Wichita, Salina, Topeka and Kansas City, Kan.

In addition, 184 of 1,400 individual schools in Kansas didn't achieve adequate progress.

Lawrence has work to do

Three schools in the Lawrence district -- Central Junior High School and Free State and Lawrence high schools -- were notified they didn't make sufficient annual progress in either math or reading.

"We've got areas to work on," said Sandee Crowther, the Lawrence district's executive director of planning and program improvement.

Randy Weseman, Lawrence's superintendent of schools, said part of the problem at LHS was that not enough students took required exams.

"We will aggressively address that," he said.

The number of schools in the district failing to meet adequate yearly progress targets is expected to increase in the next few years. Consequences for failing to meet benchmarks escalate, starting with insertion of a state technical assistance team and rising to tutoring paid for by districts, replacement of teachers and closure of a school.

"Every year the bar goes up," Weseman said. "There is no resting on our laurels here."

David Williams, principal of Prairie Park School, said the elementary building's students scored relatively low on the reading and math exams.

Keeping ahead of annual increases in the percentage of students who must be at least in the proficient performance category -- the middle level of five in Kansas -- will be difficult, he said.

"Next year will be a make-or-break year for us," Williams said. "There's no doubt we have a lot of work to do, but we're headed in the right direction."

Kennedy School

Kennedy School Principal Clim Clayburn said that school's students would have to push hard to boost math scores. The school didn't have a high enough percentage of students in the proficient category to make yearly progress in math, but it was granted a waiver based on an evaluation of other factors.

The school's staff will work to speed the reaction to student testing that exposes shortcomings, she said. There will be more one-on-one instruction in reading, writing and math, she said.

Clayburn said the federal government had established a lofty goal for schools by demanding that all children, regardless of life circumstance, test at the proficient level in math and reading in 11 years.

"I like the idea of having a goal," she said. "We're going to work toward that goal, but also realize you may not get to your goal."

Clayburn said more financial investment in schools might be necessary.

In response to Tuesday's release of test results, U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., called on the federal government to keep its promise to help schools meet new standards of excellence by fully funding the No Child Left Behind act.

He said the shortfall in fiscal year 2004 was estimated at $8 billion.

"Everyone agrees our schools should be held to the highest possible standards," he said. "However, placing additional burdens on our schools without the resources to fulfill those expectations is simply unfair."

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