More Southeast Missouri schools fail to meet targets on MAP test

Friday, August 22, 2008

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Not a single district of 11 in the Daily American Republic's five-county area or Butler, Carter, Ripley, Stoddard and Wayne counties made annual proficiency targets in math or communication arts based on their students' original test scores, according to preliminary reports recently released by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state did give Greenville, Puxico and Dexter passing grades in math, and Puxico and Neelyville districts made annual yearly progress in communication arts. But it was done by adding bonus points for growth from individuals and subgroups or by reaching the approved range of the proficiency target.

These are the first Missouri Assessment Program test scores where districts are allowed to make up ground by calculating individual students' growth. Missouri is one of only 11 states in the country currently allowed to use growth models when reaching for proficiency targets, according to DESE.

Per a federal mandate the state was required to set and have districts meet increasingly high proficiency goals in these two subjects each year. The nationwide goal is 100 percent of students scoring proficient by 2014.

Districts needed to have 51 percent of students scoring proficient in communication arts and 45 percent in math for MAP tests taken in the 2007-2008 school year.

Districts are measured by how well the district does as a whole and by how well subgroups districtwide perform. Individual schools within the district must also make annual yearly progress, being judged by the school scores as a whole and how well subgroups within the school test.

Districts and schools begin assessing sanctions after failing to meet annual yearly progress for two years in a row in one category. If they continue to fail to meet targets, they face loss of funding, and even loss of control of the district, ultimately being forced to restructure.

Of 35 area high schools, middle schools, junior highs and elementaries, 11 made annual yearly progress in communication arts and 20 made annual yearly progress in math.

Last school year was the last time high school students were given MAP tests. This school year, high school students begin taking end-of-course exams.

This round of testing was a key year for Doniphan Middle School, currently the furthest along in sanctions of all area schools. The school met AYP in math for the first time with this year and communication arts for the fourth time.

Already at School Improvement Level 3, if the students had failed to make either math or communication arts targets this year the district would have had to begin planning restructuring.

Restructuring can include replacing staff, contracting with an outside expert consultant or other major restructuring of the school's administration and operations.

Math targets were met with a confidence interval, or by being within an acceptable range of the target.

"There were some areas where we needed to improve and we did," said Doniphan Superintendent Kevin Sandlin. "Obviously we were concerned [about the middle school]. Nobody knows for sure what the state will do at that level."

Sandlin attributes the middle school, and the district's success, to individual teachers who have put more emphasis on areas where students were struggling and to students being more familiar with the test format.

"The biggest thing is making parents and kids aware that this is important," Sandlin said. "We've also had curriculum meetings and beefed up tutoring at a couple of schools."

How students score on MAP tests does not affect their grade in school, which has left districts to find ways to make these tests important for children. Last year Doniphan began a program similar to Poplar Bluff School District's which rewards students who score well on the tests.

"I believe we're on the right track. We want Doniphan to succeed, to be competitive, and so does the community," Sandlin said.

Poplar Bluff School District did not make AYP in communication arts or math or in the additional categories of attendance and graduation rates. Since the state began measuring students' proficiency levels, the R-1 district has never made AYP in communication arts or math.

Yet districtwide, the total of all students has met or exceeded both targets every year but the last.

Where the district, currently in Improvement Level 2, struggles is with its subgroups. Students in the subgroups of black students, students receiving free and reduced lunches and special education students have had difficulty, and frequently failed to meet proficiency targets, in both communication arts and math.

Within the district, the junior high campus has never met AYP in either category and the high school has never met AYP in math. Again, the campuses pass when all students are averaged together, but falls short in subgroups like free and reduced lunch and special education.

Twin Rivers School District has suffered from a similar problem with subgroups. In Improvement Level 2, none of the districts campuses have sanctions. Fisk Elementary has met math targets every year, while Qulin has met both math and communication arts five of six years.

Individually, these campuses do not have large enough groups of special education students to create a subgroup (consisting of 30 or more students), Superintendent Mike Stevenson said.

But when the district's students are combined, a special education subgroup is created and it has not met communication arts targets for the last three years or math for the last two years.

"We are looking at the areas where we are weak," Stevenson said. "The textbook committee is looking at updating the reading series for elementary schools. We also have a curriculum director this year and are working on curriculum alignment."

Greenville high school and junior high saw all of their students and subgroups meet AYP in both categories this year, but the district's elementary schools have struggled.

Williamsville Elementary showed the lowest percentage of students of 35 area schools scoring proficient on communication arts, 25. 7 percent, without growth calculations included. With growth, that number jumps to 42.9 percent, putting it ahead of at least eight other schools.

"We're targeting kids we know we can move up and changing curriculum to match state mandates," said Superintendent Jim Morrison. "We're updating technology also."

With newer technology, teachers have access to the most up-to-date class materials, he said.

At Williamsville, where the district sees its smallest class sizes, the overall percentage of students scoring proficient can be significantly affected by just one or two students, Morrison explained.

"That can easily skew the scores " he said

Educators have said schools will continue to fail to meet new proficiency targets as the country reaches for an unattainable 100 percent of students proficient in math and communication arts.

"That will not happen. It will not happen for any school, in my opinion, because we have to educate everyone," Sandlin said.

Some anticipate the law which drives this, No Child Left Behind, being revamped and believe what happens is largely dependent on who is elected president in November.

"Our challenge right now is to continue to try to respond to [targets] and move forward," Sandlin said.

Yet, as it stands, NCLB has brought some positive changes, he added.

"It has some good pieces. Students are improving," Sandlin said.

BY THE NUMBERS

* Without growth or other assistance, five schools met or exceeded AYP in communication arts. Puxico Junior High had the most students, 55.8 percent, scoring proficient.

n In math, without growth or other assistance, 16 schools met or exceeded AYP. Again, Puxico Junior High had the most students proficient at 60.9 percent. Puxico is also the only district to meet AYP every year in math.

n The only districts to have all campuses score proficient in math, without growth or other assistance, were Dexter and Puxico.

n At Neelyville and Naylor, without growth and other assistance, none of the campuses scored proficient in math. Five districts, Poplar Bluff, Twin Rivers, Neelyville, Naylor and Clearwater, had no campuses meeting AYP in communication arts without growth and other assistance.

n With growth calculations, Poplar Bluff's 5th & 6th Grade Center had the highest percent of students proficient in communication arts, 70.2 percent. Greenville Elementary came in the highest in math, with 68.7 percent proficient.

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