The annual Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, results are in and 13 of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools didn’t meet their goals.
However, 30 schools did make their goals and district administration said AYP tests doesn’t provide the whole picture of student achievement.
While the district considers the annual assessments to be a good tool for measuring student achievement, KPBSD Superintendent Steve Atwater said there were limitations to AYP.
“It gives a designation to a school but it doesn’t show why you have that designation unless you start to dig around,” said Atwater. “The public, as a whole, will say it’s a thumbs up or thumbs down and that’s a misleading statement.”
He said the majority of the 13 schools in the district that did not make AYP, when viewed as a whole, actually did well in several areas with just one or two pieces holding them back.
“Looking at kids in small groups is really important but it’s sort of misleading. One child with special needs didn’t quite make it and then the whole school doesn’t get it because one of the kids,” he said. “(It) can be really frustrating.”
Atwater said schools that didn’t make AYP but still made academic gains weren’t recognized for their progress.
“It’s frustrating that improvement isn’t recognized. AYP doesn’t dig deep enough,” he said. “I’d like to see a system that’s more tied to growth.”
Since the federal No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001, third grade through 10th grade students take annual tests in reading, writing and math. The reading and writing scores are combined into one language arts score giving each school two percentages to meet in order to meet AYP goals which increase every year.
Part of the problem with the No Child Left Behind requirement that scores improve each year is with statistics, Atwater said.
“When you get to the high 80s and low 90s in terms of percent of your kids that are passing the test, the ability to statistically move to the next level is harder,” he said. “It’s much harder to make that gain because the number of kids you have to choose from is much smaller.”
The target goal of the AYP assessments was for every school nationwide to be proficient by the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The rates used to calculate AYP were frozen at 2010-11 levels so 82.88 percent of students tested had to pass their language arts proficiency and 74.57 percent had to pass their math, according to district data.
Atwater said using just those percentages to measure a school’s academic progress was misleading.
“The big thing with AYP is that it shouldn’t be looked at as a defining measure of a school,” he said. “It’s really a mistake to use that one designation of making it or not making it as a definitive piece to whether schools are making a grade.”
Locally, 5,392 students in 44 schools took the test. Statewide about 75,000 of Alaska’s 130,000 public school students are tested each year, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
Atwater said the district uses several other kinds of tests including a literacy skills assessment in both math and language given to younger grades three times a year and kindergarten profiles which help the district identify problems with certain students early.
This year, the district will also be taking scores from quarterly testing in language arts to get a faster, in-year glimpse of how students are performing.
Atwater said the quarterly tests were the same tests students would normally be taking, however, the district is taking over their administration so it could have a leading indicator on how students were performing, rather than waiting for year-end assessments.
“We like to have a leading indicator — you get the information and you can make adjustments,” he said. “Lagging indicators, information that comes after the fact isn’t as useful.”
Atwater said he didn’t want to dismiss the one or two indicators that could be responsible for a school missing its AYP targets, just make sure the assessment used to measure schools was given the right context.
According to the district, 70 percent of KPBSD schools made AYP during the 2011-2012 school year, up from 68 percent in 2010-2011. Statewide 46.5 percent of Alaska schools made AYP.
Overall, Atwater said he believed the district was headed in the right direction.
“I think we’re improving. I think that, generally, we’re doing pretty well,” he said. “When you compare us to the rest of the state we’re well above average and we’re doing well. But we’d like to be better than that.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.