Archive for Sunday, December 17, 2006

Despite excellence award, Southwest fails assessment test

December 17, 2006


Southwest Junior High School students' parents might find themselves scratching their heads if they look at the latest state assessment results, which were recently released.

On one hand, Southwest looks really good. It was one of only two Lawrence junior high schools to get a state "Standard of Excellence" rating for reading in grades seven and eight on the test.

On the other hand, Southwest was the only local junior high school of four that didn't make its Annual Yearly Progress, or AYP, goal in math or reading as part of the No Child Left Behind law.


"It seems very strange to have a school that receives the state's award for the 'Standard of Excellence' in reading to also not make AYP in reading. It's ironic," said Trish Bransky, the school's principal.

But that's just one of the quirks of the assessments, which were given last spring across the state to students in grades three through eight and 11, Bransky said.

"Some of it is a statistical thing. And one part of it, the AYP part, is looking at one small part of the data," she said.

Southwest failed to pass the AYP test because of the results in a subgroup category - students with disabilities.

To pass AYP, Southwest needed the subgroup of 59 students in seventh and eighth grades to score either 60.1 percent on math or 63.4 percent on reading. However, that subgroup scored only 23.2 percent on math and 26.5 percent on reading.

"I think our subgroups of students who didn't perform well on that test are students who have been identified as students who have academic difficulties," Bransky said. "We work really hard to bring them up to grade level. That's our mission. I don't think it's a fault of the test."

Because that subgroup failed to score grade-level proficiency or better on reading and math, the school did not meet AYP, according to Terry McEwen, the district's director of assessment.

The other subgroups at Southwest, which must have at least 30 students in them, are as follows: all students, white students, Asian students, students who get free and reduced lunches, and English Language Learners, McEwen said.

Not a black mark

"This is not a black mark on anything that's happening at Southwest Junior High School," McEwen said. "It's just that the No Child Left Behind Act requires that every subgroup be held at the same level of competence, and so it sometimes gets harder to attain that for some groups than others."

McEwen said he didn't like the way that No Child Left Behind allows one subgroup's results to overshadow the school as a whole.

"I think that a school can get misidentified as something going on there that's not going on, just because of the way that the AYP is calculated, and it negates all of the other groups of students and it negates all of the excellent work that's going on," McEwen said.

A check at the other three junior highs showed that those schools didn't meet the performance targets for their own students with disabilities. However, they made AYP because they were either close enough to the target or they had improved by more than 10 percent over the previous year.

For example, at West Junior High School, the disabilities subgroup on the math assessment scored 54.6 percent rather than the target 60.1 percent. But it was close enough, based on "standard errors of measurement," according to the Kansas Department of Education.

Also at West, on the reading assessment, the disabilities subgroup scored only 39 percent, while the target was 63.4 percent. However, "the school actually made AYP through the safe harbor method," according to KSDE. The safe harbor method allows those schools to meet AYP if they score 10 percent higher than they did the previous year.

At Central Junior High, students with disabilities met the target of 60.1 percent on math. However, on the reading assessment, the disabilities subgroup missed the 63.4 percent target, scoring only 35.1 percent. However, the school actually made AYP through the safe harbor method.

Not whole school

About 180 out of some 1,500 school buildings in Kansas are listed as "on improvement" because they didn't make AYP two years in a row. No Lawrence school is on that list.

Bill Wagnon, a Kansas State Board of Education member, said Southwest's failure to make AYP should be viewed for what it really is - one subgroup not making it.

But is it fair to say the entire building did not make AYP if a subgroup failed?

"The whole school is not taken down because one group doesn't cut the mustard," Wagnon said. "The whole school is doing well with the exception of one group."

Standard of Excellence

To give a more complete picture and recognize success of a building as a whole and of the various subgroups, the Kansas Department of Education has instituted Standard of Excellence ratings. To get that award, schools have to meet certain criteria, which include having a portion of the subgroup scoring at the exemplary level on the assessments.

This is the first year for building-level Standard of Excellence awards. Previously, only grade-level awards were available for grades five, eight and 11 in reading and grades four, seven and 10 in math.

With the inception of No Child Left Behind testing in grades three through eight and 11, a building-level award recognized overall student achievement in a school.

In all, 4,567 building-wide and grade-level Standard of Excellence awards are being given to Kansas schools this year.

To receive a Standard of Excellence award at the elementary school level, the school must have at least 25 percent of its students score exemplary on the state assessment and no more than 5 percent of its students on academic warning.

In middle schools and junior highs, at least 20 percent of students must score exemplary on the reading assessment and no more than 10 percent of students can be on academic warning. In math, at least 25 percent of students must score exemplary and no more than 10 percent can be on academic warning.

A high school must have 15 percent of its students score exemplary on the reading assessment, and no more than 10 percent of its students can be on academic warning. In math, at least 15 percent of students must score exemplary and no more than 15 percent of the students can be on academic warning.

Statewide, 1,172 school buildings received the Standards of Excellence designation.

McEwen said seven Lawrence schools received Standard of Excellence honors for their entire building: Broken Arrow, Cordley, Deerfield, Langston Hughes, Quail Run, Sunset Hill and Wakarusa Valley schools.

Eleven other schools received Standard of Excellence honors for one or more grade levels in either reading, math or both subjects.

Those included South and Southwest junior highs, for reading in grades seven and eight.

'At the top'

In terms of achievement, Southwest's "all students" subgroup fared better in reading and math than the "all students" subgroup at any of the city's other junior highs, McEwen said.

"In terms of their performance with regard to both reading and mathematics, they actually are at the top," McEwen said.

He said 82.8 percent of Southwest's students were proficient or above on the state reading assessment and 76.6 percent of Southwest's students were proficient or above for math.

"That's the highest of all four junior high schools, without a doubt," McEwen said.

Bransky said there were "many, many other examples of success at Southwest."

"Year after year, our students' scores have been significantly higher than any of the other junior highs in both reading and math," she said.

And seven out of Lawrence's 12 high school juniors who were recently named National Merit Semifinalists attended Southwest when they were in junior high, she said.

Moving forward

Bransky said Southwest is committed to improving the reading and math scores of the students with disabilities subgroup before another round of testing.

Those in the subgroup qualify for special education services and an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, tailored to that student's academic needs, she said.

Some of the children in the subgroup have emotional issues, some are autistic and some have severe handicapping conditions, she said.

"The majority of those children look like any kid on the block," Bransky said. "They might have a learning disability and that might be in the area of reading or mathematics or writing."

In order to move forward and make AYP next year, Southwest is making sure all of those students in the subgroup spend more time with the special education teacher who is their case manager.

Previously, students who had mild disabilities didn't have as much time with their IEP case manager, she said.

"They would have a special ed teacher each day, not necessarily one that was their IEP manager," Bransky said. "What we did was put the student into a time period when their case manager could be with them directly each day."

That change is working, she said.

"Teachers are giving me good feedback about that," she said. "They feel that assists the students with meeting their goal."


average 11 years, 4 months ago

One piece of the "Adequate Yearly Progress" malarkey I've always wondered about is the composition of some of these groups. In particular, the "Limited English Proficiency" students.

At first glance, one would assume, by definition, that it would be real hard to get 80--90--eventually 100% of students with "limited English proficiency" to being proficient. By definition, once they are proficient, they shouldn't be "limited English proficiency".

But, somehow, a school like South JH has 44% of them proficient, yet not. Even 8% exemplary but "limited".

The only way to achieve 100% success in anything is to test for nothing.

person184 11 years, 4 months ago

Yes NCLB is wacky. The bell curve isn't based on simply theoretical perspectives.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 11 years, 4 months ago

Next year all schools will fail. Children with reading disabilites, whose IEP (Individual Education Plans, required by the federal government) state that the assessments can be read to them, can't have them read. Imagine you are a dyslexic and the words bounce around on the paper. You may be really smart, but you can't demonstrate it, because your eyes don't work well with your brain. Next they will require blind students to take the test without typing it into braille. Shouldn't they be able to perform just like everyone else? There are many students with disabilities who need to be prepared to function in the real world. Precious time is being used to try and get these kids to perform at a level they haven't the ability to reach. If they can read well enough to get by, and can learn to hold down a job, and take care of themselves, that should be enough. Do they really need to know the difference between a simile and a metaphor? It's as if we want to prepare them for college. Some disabilities make that an impossible dream. Teachers don't want any student left behind, but students are not something you can pour in a mold and make them all the same. And I'm not just talking about the kids with reading problems. Children with low performing autism, Down's Syndrome, etc. are expected to perform as well as the student with no problems.

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