By Callie Clark ~ Southeast Missourian
There were after-school tutoring sessions and hundreds of hours spent pouring over data. There were workshops and pep rallies held, hamburgers and college scholarships offered.
Officials in local school districts say they did everything they know of to improve students' scores on annual state assessments. But many schools didn't make the cut.
"It's frustrating, it's confusing and it's disappointing," said Paul Sharp, Scott City Middle School principal. "We tried so hard last year."
Ten local schools were among the state's 1,033 schools that did not meet new federal requirements on the 2003 Missouri Assessment Program tests. This is from a total of 2,055 schools.
The results spotlight a wide achievement gap between white and minority students, an overall low performance in communication arts and decreasing scores among junior high and high school students.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, all school districts must make "adequate yearly progress" on the state's annual assessments or face penalties such as allowing students to transfer to other schools and providing tutoring services.
By 2014, all schools must have all students scoring at proficient or higher on the annual assessments under NCLB. States have set bench mark goals to help schools gradually work toward that.
To meet adequate yearly progress goals in 2003, school districts must have 19.4 percent of students scoring at proficient or above in communication arts and 9.3 percent scoring at proficient or above in math on the MAP tests.
Individual schools and various subgroups within those schools must also meet or exceed those percentages. Those that do not are labeled "needing improvement" by the state. Subgroups are broken down into categories by race, learning disabilities, free and reduced lunch program participation, and students whose first language is not English.
If, for example, 19.4 percent of students in the free and reduced lunch subgroup at a particular school did not score at the proficient level or above on the communication arts tests this year, then the entire school did not meet its percentage goals.
The penalties associated with No Child Left Behind kick in after two years of not meeting percentage goals, so schools have until next spring, when the 2004 MAP tests will be administered, to make adjustments.
The results provide a new evaluation tool that will take some getting used to, said Mark Bowles, Cape Girardeau schools superintendent.
"Parents should take this with a grain of salt," Bowles said. "It's just one of many pieces of information they have to evaluate the education their child is getting."
Local elementary schools faired the best on this year's MAP tests.
All elementary schools in Jackson and Scott City met the goals in both math and communication arts. All Cape Girardeau elementary schools met goals in math, and only Blanchard, Jefferson and Franklin schools did not in communication arts.
No local middle, junior high or high school met goals on the communication arts tests. Only Scott City High School exceeded the bench mark percentage for math.
Cape Girardeau parent Judy Evans said she isn't too concerned about the high school making the state's improvement list.
"CHS is still getting off the ground after moving into the new building last year," said Evans, whose son attends Central. "It's probably something they can work out in time."
In Jackson, the total high school population scored high enough to meet goals, but students with learning disabilities and those on free or reduced lunches did not meet the standards and therefore the school was labeled as "needing improvement."
"These scores are not about the success of a school. They're about how a certain population of students performed on one test," said Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent of the Jackson School District. "It's such a small sampling of the overall picture."
Even so, school officials and parents are concerned that the label will create a negative image in the community.
"I'm disappointed this happened, because the quality of education has always been a selling point in Jackson," said Jim Roche, who has children at the junior high and high school in Jackson. "But I have full faith that our administrators will find the problem and make the necessary adjustments."
In Cape Girardeau, the achievement gap between white students and minority students is more evident than ever in this year's scores.
Only 10.4 percent of black 3rd-, 7th- and 10th-graders who took the communication arts tests scored proficient or higher, compared to 35.7 percent of white students who scored at that level.
The same was true on the math tests, where just 6.7 percent of black 4th-, 8th- and 11th-graders scored proficient or higher, compared to the 20.6 percent of white students who achieved that score level.
Bowles said the achievement gap is something officials are aware of and will be working to improve.
"As a district, we will never be satisfied as long as we're not meeting expectations," Bowles said. "It's a reflection on the entire system, and our reaction is one of rolling up our sleeves."
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