Archive for Wednesday, October 13, 2004

LHS again left behind in school assessment tests

High schools, middle schools struggle to meet state education goals

October 13, 2004


Lawrence High School students managed to improve or hold steady on state assessment scores in math or reading in 2004.

But despite some gains, Lawrence High didn't make enough progress to meet the yearly benchmarks set by the state as it struggles to meet standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

LHS missed the mark because one group of students -- those with disabilities -- weren't able to meet standards laid out by the Kansas State Department of Education.

"We have to make sure about the subgroups and that's where we fell a little short," said Lawrence High Principal Steve Nilhas.

Scores for the students improved -- just not enough, he said.

But Lawrence High wasn't alone.

More than two-thirds of the state's 102 schools that didn't make adequate progress on state tests in 2003-04 were high schools and middle schools, according to results released Tuesday by the State Department of Education.

Sixteen school districts failed to meet goals for student proficiency in math, reading or writing. The state as a whole failed to show adequate progress in improving reading scores for disabled students.

Test scores for students with disabilities needed to improve by 10 percent. But none of the three grades tested improved that much.

"Did they improve? Yes, they did," said Alexa Pochowski-Posny, deputy commissioner with the state department of education. "But it was not by 10 percent."

Fifth-graders with disabilities showed 3.1 percent improvement over last year. Eighth-graders improved 7.1 percent. Eleventh-graders improved by 2.7 percent.

Last year, 175 schools and 40 school districts fell short of the annual progress benchmarks. The state last year also failed to meet goals for improving reading scores of black high school students, a goal that was met this year.

Under No Child Left Behind, all students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. States set their own standards, but the federal law requires schools to improve test scores each year.

The state Department of Education touted the higher scores from the latest rounds of assessments as evidence that the achievement gap is closing between disadvantaged and students from higher-income families, which is one of the main purposes of No Child Left Behind.

"What is most encouraging about the report released today is that it shows real progress toward reducing the achievement gap and at the same time reflects growth among all our populations," said Kansas Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins. "It is clear that while we have improved the performance of our more challenged populations, we have not sacrificed continued growth among our best performing students."

There are any number of reasons why schools don't make adequate yearly progress, or AYP. It's based on the total group of students as well as subgroups based on income, language, disabilities, ethnicity and special education. A subgroup must have at least 30 students -- or 40 students in special education -- to be measured.Lawrence High School missed AYP because special education students fell short in reading.The Baldwin School District also is on improvement. However, the district made AYP this year. If it makes enough progress the 2005 assessments, it will be off the in-need-of-improvement list next year.

Reading concerns

Most area school district superintendents and officials said they were proud of the progress made but that there was still work to be done.

Eudora Supt. Marty Kobza said high school reading scores were a concern.

"We're addressing it by doing some big interventions with students," he said.

Focus has been put at the elementary level and the schools are beginning to see improvements in the middle schools as a result, Pochowski-Posny said.

Carlton Jordan, senior associate at The Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group, said secondary school instructors often think teaching reading and writing is an elementary school job.

But teachers need to show students that good skills in high school will help them in higher education and in the job market, Jordan said.

"Research suggests that we're not doing enough to motivate those students," Jordan said. "We all have to be reading teachers."

Statewide, 59 percent of Hispanics and 65 percent of black 11th graders were reading at a basic or unsatisfactory level, according to the test scores, compared with 33 percent of white students.

Kansas has 822 elementary schools, compared with 221 junior high and middle schools and 368 high schools.

Currently, only schools with high percentages of students in poverty, so-called Title I schools, are placed on "improvement" status for failing to meet education goals for two consecutive years.

In August, a list of seven Title I districts, including Baldwin, and 21 Title I schools failing to show adequate annual progress was released.

Beginning in 2007, all schools and districts failing to meet annual goals for two consecutive years will be placed on improvement status.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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