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USD 398 doesn't meet state reading standards

Results are surprising but Marion schools are doing OK

Staff writers

The most recent newsletter sent to Peabody-Burns USD 398 patrons includes a letter from Superintendent Rex Watson, explaining disappointing results on the state assessment test for 2008-09.

At least 76.7 percent in each district must meet or exceed target scores in reading and 70.5 percent in math.

USD 398 failed, for the second year in a row, to make adequate progress toward reaching target scores in reading with a composite score of 81.4. The composite score was above the state target but the scores in a subgroup were below the standard. This testing program was established by No Child Left Behind legislation.

The district made sufficient progress in math with a composite score of 75.7 percent of students who met or exceeded the established target.

After missing the Adequate Yearly Progress goal for the second year in a row, Peabody-Burns becomes one of 16 school districts identified by Kansas Department of Education for improvement.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, determined that every child will be proficient in reading and mathematics skills by the 2013-14 school year. Annual testing measures the students’ progress. Each testing year students must meet an annual target score to prove that he or she has learned enough to make adequate yearly progress.

If enough students meet the target scores, the school and/or the district will meet the AYP requirements. If not, the school is placed on a program of improvement after the second year of inadequate scores. (There is no consequence the first year a target score is not met.)

After being placed on improvement status, the school or district must meet the APY for two consecutive years.

The result of being placed on improvement means Peabody-Burns will have an assistance team from the state critique the curriculum, teaching methods, and classroom programs to make suggestions for improving student achievement.

Additional years with inadequate progress would likely result in additional sanctions by the state.

“Being on improvement is not a merit badge,” Watson said. “We are not where we need to be. But does it mean we are a ‘failing school’? No, absolutely not.

“However, we do have our work cut out for us. The scores identify which areas are weak and which subgroups need help if we expect to meet the target scores.”

A subgroup is any group of 30 or more students NCLB has identified as having similar characteristics. For instance, subgroups can include students for whom English is a second language, racial or ethnic groups, and students with disabilities.

One subgroup is comprised of all students, their similar characteristic being the fact that they are students.

If one school in a district does not have enough students to meet the minimum number of 30 for a subgroup, that group of students is added to a similar subgroup at another school. In USD 398, there are special education students in each building, but neither school has 30 special education students. When the students are added together, their numbers are greater than 30 so they become a subgroup for the district.

Since special education students are not a subgroup for their building, their test scores were included with that larger subgroup known as “all students.” Thus, PBES and PBHS each met the target scores for adequate yearly progress. However, when the special education students became a subgroup for the entire district, the scores did not reach the APY target numbers.

Subgroups must reach the same percentage of proficiency as “all students.” If any subgroup fails to meet the goal in any area, it means Adequate Yearly Progress was not met by the school district.

Watson has some reservations about the NCLB legislation.

“Every school and district in the country will need to reach 100 percent proficiency in both math and reading by 2014,” he said. “That means that no student can have a bad day, every child has to get every answer right, no one can be hungry or not feel well.

“I don’t believe that goal can be met. I think that by the time 2014 rolls around a lot more schools and districts will need to be on improvement.”

Watson also said the district would use the “on improvement” designation to work harder at creating better schools.

“And we need to remember that while one of our subgroups did not meet one NCLB target, the rest of our student groups met them all,” he said. “It will take work, but we are ready to roll up our sleeves.”

Other school districts

USD 398 was the only district in Marion County that did not meet the required standards but how did the other school districts fare?

It’s difficult to measure or compare school district testing by buildings because districts vary in how grades are divided among buildings.

However, a composite percentage of all students in a specific district who met or surpassed the state’s standards can be acknowledged.

Goessel USD 411 students achieved a 95.4 percent in reading and 90.8 percent in math.

According to Counselor Janna Duerksen, it’s not by accident the scores are high.

“We use other forms of testing such as MAPP, measure of academic proficiency and progress,” she said. “It’s interesting because some of these tests can be precursor for state assessments.

“Hopefully we can intervene before they take the tests,” Duerksen said. “If a student scores low on a MAPP test, they probably will score low on a state assessment.”

Sometimes the outcome of the annual testing comes down to a student having a bad day.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s just one test,” Duerksen said. “We wish we could test more often with it.”

The percentage of students in Centre USD 397 who met or exceeded state standards in reading was 95.1 percent and 88.7 percent in math, a significant improvement from the previous year at 69.1 percent for reading.

“It hasn’t always been this high,” Counselor Lacy Wallace said. “The teachers prepare students for the tests. If students don’t meet AYP, they receive additional help to improve their scores, re-testing several times.”

Wallace said the district uses other uniform tests to prepare students for the annual testing.

Superintendent Lee Leiker of Marion USD 408 believes Kansas schools are doing a much better job of educating and preparing students than in the past.

“The No Child Left Behind requirements have allowed schools and districts to look at themselves and determine how to do a better job for students with the resources they have,” Leiker said.

He believes the AYP program is good for education.

“I think we’ll see it slightly modified but the general concept has been very good for education,” Leiker said.

He said that two percent of students with disabilities can take a modified state assessment test.

“We all have those unique learners, not necessarily just those in special education,” Leiker said.

USD 408 scores were 91.52 percent in reading and 90.64 in math.

Hillsboro USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble is highly impressed with math performances in the school district.

USD 410 had a composite percentage of 85.8 percent proficiency or above in reading and 83.5 percent in math.

“Hillsboro Middle School reading performance is unmatched,” Noble said.

He likes the concept of annual yearly progress and No Child Left Behind.

“The ideal of expecting great performance is right-on,” he said. “I have no problem with the ideology behind the programs. We ought to be held accountable and have high expectations from learning.

“We don’t shy away from accountability,” Noble said. “The challenge is going to be accounting for individual student growth. It’s a benchmark. It’s a standard. The bar is set at a certain height.”

Last modified Sept. 9, 2009

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