Achieving AYP: administrators target areas for improvement

Published 3:55 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Special education seems to be the sticking point for schools failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Principals and assistant principals at all the county’s schools gave reports on their AYP status and measures being taken to maintain or to achieve AYP at the Butler County BOE’s most recent meeting.

Curtis Black, the new principal at Greenville Middle School, has inherited a school in its fourth year of School Improvement. GMS again failed to make AYP in the 2009-2010 year.

GMS students actually met participation and proficiency goals in mathematics, but did not meet the proficiency goal in special education for reading. The criteria for AYP requires students identified as special needs to meet the same proficiency goals as regular students.

GMS, which contains grades 5-8, has several challenges in the 2010-2011 year, said Black.

“We have a very large special education population, over-crowded classes; we need more remediation resources specific to state testing,” Black said. “We also have a clear lack of math and reading coaches and a lack of technology resources.”

According to Black, goals for GMS this year include making AYP in all subgroups, increasing the number of students scoring in the desired achievement levels 3 and 4, performing school-wide goal setting, providing professional development in reading strategies specific to the Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT) objectives, reducing student-to-teacher ratio and the number of discipline referrals.

Jai Hill, former principal at GMS and now at the helm of Greenville Elementary School, gave former GES principal Dr. Tera Simmons high marks for leaving the program in excellent shape “and everything in place.”

GES, which contains 3rd and 4th grade students, met 17 out of 17 goals; because of the limited number of special education students, they are not classified as a subgroup and do not serve as an indicator, said Hill.

“We do want to work on goals in special education along with the rest of the district,” Hill said.

“If we send unprepared students to middle school, it’s a terrible burden; so we are doing our best to make them ready.”

Hill said coaches in reading and math, use of the Scott Foresman Reading and Math Programs and Materials, computer programs, Accelerated Reader, classroom observations, weekly grade level meetings, Reading and Math Nights with parents and involvement in PTA would be among the resources offered by GES to help students keep reaching goals.

Board member Joe Lisenby said he was struck by the district’s consistency in failing to meet AYP goals.

Hill said the high expectations for special education students (as mandated by No Child Left Behind) is proving the biggest problem the district faces in meeting AYP goals.

“You have learning-disabled children who are expected to score just as well as regular students. If they do reach these goals, then you have to ask, why are they in special education in the first place?” Hill responded.

“I am glad to hear you say that,” Lisenby responded. “It seems unfair that they are expected to achieve at a level they aren’t necessarily capable of ever achieving. What can we do differently?”

Hill said changing requirements to a different type of indicator that measures progress in each student might be the answer.

Superintendent Darren Douthitt said ongoing teacher training for dealing with special needs children could be beneficial. “When you put two teachers together in a classroom, often one ends up acting as more of an aide; it doesn’t work when you are dealing with something as serious as our special needs students,” Douthitt said.

W. O. Parmer Elementary School made AYP and also achieved 96 percent attendance, with a goal of 90 percent. Principal Catherine Sawicki said the school was doing a number of things to continue to beef up their preparation for students.

“W.O. Parmer is part of the state’s Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) using the Hands On Math and Science programs; we also use the Scott Foresman Reading Street for small and whole group instruction along with My Sidewalks Intervention,” Sawicki said.

Sawicki said volunteers were also utilized, with Americorps members used where they were needed the most.

“We also provide a transitional class to help students moving from kindergarten to first grade, and additional enrichment for our students who attend weekly classes in music, art, character education and computer,” Sawicki said.

Ward Thigpen, assistant principal for Greenville High School, said the school was seeking to find the right balance in preparation for both AYP and the Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE).

While GHS made AYP in mathematics and had 100 percent participation in both reading and math, the school failed to meet the proficiency goal in reading. Their graduation rate of 77 percent failed to reach the goal of 90 percent.

“We are on the right track; we didn’t make it, but we did meet 14 of our 17 goals,” said Thigpen.

Thigpen said reading would be the primary target, but added the school would also work to improve scores in math. In terms of the AHSGE, a number of students came heartbreakingly close to the passing score of 563 on the reading portion, he said.

“We had six students who scored 562 and ten who scored 555 . . . to look at the expressions on their face, to see their disappointment and their teachers’ disappointment when you tell them you can’t walk with your class, well, it’s hard,” Thigpen said. “We’ve had kids miss it by just one or two questions.”

Of the 185 students taking the AHSGE spring 2010 at GHS, 127 passed reading and 58 failed. Out of the 58 who were non-proficient, 42 fell into subgroups of black and free/reduced lunch, and 16 were special education. Eight of those 16 students had reading as their main area of disability.

Thigpen pointed out the graduation rate has slowly but steadily risen at GHS over the last three years.

“It was 72 percent in 2008, 76 percent in 2009 and 77 percent in 2010. So we are inching up.”

He said the school would continue with its Reading Initiative, use cross curriculum studies to immerse the school in reading strategies, and continue after school tutoring for the AHSGE. For remediation, three AHSGE reading courses and seven Language! Courses would be offered.

At Georgiana School, principal Joseph Dean says he is still very hopeful the State Department of Education will rescind the failing grade on AYP given the school, due to confusion when RL Austin Elementary and Georgiana High were merged into one school.

“They base their data on the school with the largest number of students, and that is RL Austin. We weren’t meeting the graduation rate because it is an elementary school and doesn’t have any graduates. But in terms of continuous improvement, we have shown that. We also made 18 out of 19 goals,” Dean said. GS met participation and proficiency goals in both reading and math. Dean said the school has a number of strategies in place to improve student performance in both reading and math.

McKenzie School has never missed achieving AYP, said assistant principal Mike Gunter. “We ‘ain’t broke,’ but we are still going to try to improve,” Gunter said. “As far as we’re concerned, this is already 2014 and we are already shooting for that 100 percent goal set for us. We might not meet it, but we are going to strive for it.”

Gunter said one of the school’s primary aims will be to raise students’ ACT scores.

“We are also encouraging more of our students to take the ACT. We are also using ACCESS to provide students with more AP classes and providing test-taking strategy courses,” Gunter said.