Room for improvement
Even with districtwide improvement on assessment tests, the Lawrence school district remains designated as “on improvement” in the eyes of government officials.
The district received the designation last year, because it failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” standards for students with disabilities for two consecutive years. To shed the designation, the district must show that such students meet assessment standards for two consecutive years.
This past year, the designation required the district to set aside about $175,000 to spend on professional development and other activities, to help teachers strive for higher test scores. The money represented 10 percent of the funds sent to the district by the federal government for use in schools with relatively high percentages of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches.
The district will continue to set aside money for the coming year, and also continue to have an improvement plan in place as approved by the Kansas State Department of Education.
Students in the Lawrence school district scored collectively higher on standardized tests during the past year, enough for the district to once again meet federal standards.
The district, with almost 11,000 students, made the mandated “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) on assessments in both reading and math, as outlined through the No Child Left Behind legislation put in place during the Bush administration.
Last year the district as a whole had missed such standards, because three of its identified subgroups — students with disabilities, students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, and black students — fell short of assessment standards. But even as proficiency standards climbed for 2010-11, the district as a whole hit or surpassed standards in all categories and among all 20 subgroups tracked.
The collective improvement in achievement is being hailed by district leaders as a collective achievement.
“I challenged everyone last year to get a little bit better, and that meant everyone: Every school needed to get more kids proficient on the Kansas assessments,” Superintendent Rick Doll said. “And they did.”
The standards for 2010-11 call for certain percentages of students to score “meets standard” or higher on the assessment tests:
- Grades 3-8: 87.8 percent in reading, and 86.7 percent in math.
- Grades 9-12: 86 percent in reading, and 82.3 percent.
Among district schools, 17 of 22 maintained or improved their scores, and overall performance continued to climb. A dozen elementary schools had more than 90 percent of their students meet or surpass standards in reading, up from 11 schools last year; for math the tally was 11 elementary schools, up from seven a year ago.
Some schools didn’t meet the assessment standards. Those schools and student subgroups in which they fell short:
- Deerfield School — Reading and math, for students with disabilities, students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches.
- Hillcrest School — Math, for students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, English language learners, Hispanic students.
- Kennedy School — Math, for students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, white students.
- Prairie Park School — Reading, for students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, students with disabilities; and math, for all students, students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, students with disabilities.
- West Junior High School — Reading, for students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, students with disabilities; and math, for all students, students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, students with disabilities, white students.
Rich Minder, president of the Lawrence school board, cautioned against reading too much into a particular school failing to meet a particular standard for a particular set of students taking particular assessment tests.
“I would urge parents: Look at how their children do, and not assume that their child is not getting a good, high-quality education because the school isn’t making AYP,” Minder said. “Getting worked up about AYP — you can’t go there. Just because a school didn’t make AYP doesn’t mean your child isn’t getting a quality education.
“It’s one very flawed measure of how our overall system is working.”
Even so, district officials know they’ll need continued improvement in the years to come. By 2014, schools and districts will be expected to have all their students scoring at “meets standard” or above on assessment tests, as the standards continue to rise.
Board members plan to receive and review the data during their meeting at 7 p.m. today at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
Minder, for one, is looking forward to the opportunity, given all the changes and challenges of the past year: reconfiguring schools to make elementaries for grades K-5, middle schools for grades 6-8; and high schools for grades 9-12; cutting the budget; convening a task force to recommend the future for elementary schools, and a new working group to mull consolidation efforts; and continuing to address and close the academic “achievement” gap facing students of color.
“All these things we’ve done with less money,” Minder said. “And to make AYP this year — as far as I’m concerned, the teachers deserve full credit for all the improvement we’ve made. The professional educators we have, up through the building administration, up through the central office, they deserve full credit for all the hard work we’ve done this year.”