District making progress when it comes to No Child Left Behind Act

Lawrence public schools are making progress when it comes to leaving no children behind, but work still needs to be done.

Fifteen of the 21 Lawrence schools made Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, in 2008 under the No Child Left Behind Act, according to preliminary state assessment data released by the Kansas State Department of Education.

AYP is how the federal government determines the progress of schools, districts and states. Under federal law, standards increase every year until 2014, when 100 percent of students must be proficient in reading and math.

Terry McEwen, the district’s director of assessment, research and school improvement, said that at the elementary level, Kennedy, Deerfield and Hillcrest schools missed AYP. Both high schools and Central Junior High School also missed their targets.

For a school to meet AYP, each of 10 subgroups – based on indicators such as income, special needs or ethnicity – must reach the standards in both math and reading.

At Kennedy School, for example, students with disabilities did not achieve the standard in math. At Central Junior High, students in five subgroups – free and reduced-price lunch students, students with disabilities, white students, African-American students and the all-student group – didn’t reach the benchmark in math.

“As the targets go up, it gets harder and harder for every school to make every subgroup reach those targets,” McEwen said. “All in all, I would say : our performance is much higher in 2008 than it was in 2007.”

Last year, none of the junior highs made AYP and this year three of the four performed at the standard level or higher.

The district tackled reading problems last year and now it’s looking to improve math scores.

“We saw a big improvement in our reading scores from last year just by really taking a close look at individual students and groups of students to this year,” Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer, said. “Because we saw that improvement, we’re doing the same kind of thing this year with mathematics.”

District leaders said the AYP scores need to improve, but that the district is prepared to meet the challenge.

“The bar is getting higher every year, and expectations are already high in Lawrence,” said Superintendent Randy Weseman.

School board Vice President Scott Morgan said the results are not indicative of Lawrence students’ capabilities.

“It’s a snapshot,” he said, pointing out that periodic Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, tests give an immediate sense of students’ progress, allowing teachers to immediately target an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.

“If we’re waiting on (the AYP results), I think we’d be run out on a rail,” he said.

To help improve scores and benefit students, the district started a teacher coaching program, where veteran teachers work with younger teachers to create effective learning strategies. The district also prescreened students in the fall to identify students who may need additional assistance.

“I think our teachers and principals are very vested in making sure that every individual student makes high progress,” McEwen said. “High expectations are being set for everyone and our kids are, in fact, meeting those expectations.”

The results don’t put any funding in immediate danger because all of the district’s Title 1 schools – which receive federal funds for having a certain number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches – met the standards.