The Lawrence school district has some catching up to do when it comes to reaching proficiency standards on assessment tests for students with disabilities.
For two consecutive years, the district as whole has fallen short of rising standards for the number of students expected to score proficient or above on the standardized tests, which are used to gauge compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind program.
Students approaching proficiency
Percentage of the Lawrence school district’s students with disabilities who met or surpassed proficiency standards on state assessment tests, as part of the federal No Child Left Behind program:
Reading: 68.1 percent for all students with disabilities. Among students grouped by specific disabilities: learning disability, 66.4 percent; mental retardation, 80 percent; behavioral disorder, 70.6 percent; other health impairment, 59 percent; autism, 80 percent; speech/language, 79.6 percent.
Math: 65.2 percent of all students with disabilities. Among students grouped by specific disabilities: learning disability, 57.3 percent; mental retardation, 60 percent; behavioral disorder, 54.4 percent; other health impairment, 54.2 percent; autism, 73.2 percent; speech/language, 81.5 percent.
Note: Dozens of students with disabilities take modified versions of assessment tests because educators consider such versions to be more appropriate. But because the number of students taking such modified tests exceeded the state’s reporting limits, some students who had rated as proficient or above on the modified assessments were counted as “not proficient” in the overall totals. This past year, for example, 55 students who had achieved proficiency on the modified reading assessment were instead counted as having been “not proficient.” For math, the total was 14 students.
But just because the district is now considered “on improvement” — a label assigned to districts and schools that fall short of standards for two years in a row — that doesn’t mean educators are giving up, even as proficiency targets are set to rise even higher for the coming year.
Within four years, all of the district’s students are to be proficient or better in reading and math — a level reached so far by only about two-thirds of students with disabilities, compared with more than 83 percent for the overall student population.
“We are not making excuses,” Superintendent Rick Doll told members of the Lawrence school board last week. “I will not allow my staff to make excuses. We do understand, with No Child left Behind, there’s some, just, idiocy in the whole thing, when you get out to the year 2014. That doesn’t stop us from emphasizing improvements for individual kids, and we will continue to do that.”
As required as part of the “on improvement” designation, the district will need to spend about $175,000 of federal funds this year to provide professional development to educators. Such instruction will be tailored to help the district improve students’ proficiency scores in both reading and math, with a focus on students with disabilities.
Should the district fall short again this coming year, it likely would need to augment its current services for students with disabilities by hiring tutors. Such personnel would be hired with federal funds that otherwise would be used on other programs elsewhere in schools.
Mary Loveland, a longtime board member, expressed concern about the assessment results while offering support for the administrators and educators who remain charged with bringing the scores up.
“There’s a wide spectrum of disabilities,” she said. “Sometimes it just means the members of these groups are challenged to learn but are quite capable of learning. I know that.”
While the district as a whole has fallen short on Adequate Yearly Progress scores for students with disabilities, the majority of district schools scored high enough to make AYP in that category. Some of the district’s schools that have succeeded have been systematic in intervening with individual students who need help, an approach to be explored for other schools as well.
Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer, said administrators already had been meeting with personnel at Lawrence High School and South and Southwest junior high schools to review data about which students need particular help. The next step will be devising plans to see that such individual students get all the help they need.
“It’s not easy,” Bodensteiner said. “It’s no different than when a doctor is trying to diagnose an illness, and you have to try different medicines and treatments to find what works for that individual situation with that patient.
“It’s also true with students. We have to continue to try different kinds of instruction, different programs.”
It’s an approach all people involved in the district — administrators, teachers, counselors, specialists, parents and others — will need to embrace as the district moves forward, said Tammy Becker, principal at Hillcrest School.
“It isn’t easy,” said Becker, whose students met proficiency standards in all categories, including students with disabilities. “But I’m convinced — because we’ve done it here for the past couple years — that if teams of teachers work together, and are committed — all of them — to do whatever it takes for any and all students, we’ll get there.”