Judging by their achievement of standards determined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, 35 of 44 schools -- 79.5 percent -- in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District made the grade and nine did not during the 2008-2009 school year, according to information released Friday by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
Across the state, 281 of 505 schools tested -- 55.6 percent -- achieved AYP, annual yearly progress.
Translating what that means should be done cautiously, according to Larry LeDoux, commissioner for the department.
"We have to be careful not to define our success by a score. We have to be careful not to judge the system by what we're not achieving," LeDoux said.
Dr. Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent, expressed mixed reaction to the scores.
"The big picture is good. The more specific picture is that we have room for improvement and we're looking forward to making as much gain as we can through improvements we have planned," Atwater said.
With students in third-10th grades being tested, 88 percent showed proficiency in language arts and 78 tested proficient in math.
"The vast majority of kids are doing well. We're pleased with that," Atwater said.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act holds schools and school districts accountable for progress of students based on assessments in the two areas of language arts and math. The national goal is that all schools in the country will be proficient by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Each school is required to meet 31 separate targets. Failure to reach one of those targets results in the school's failure to achieve AYP.
The targets include the school as a whole; African American students; Alaska Native/American Indian students; Asian students; Caucasian students; Hispanic students; multi-ethnic students; economically disadvantaged students; students with disabilities; LEP or students with limited English proficiency; and other indicators. Each of those categories includes three areas -- participation rate, performance for language arts and performance for math -- with the exception of "other indicator" which is measured either by attendance rate or graduation rate.
Consequences for not meeting AYP range from Level 1, least serious consequence, to Level 5, the most serious. Level 1 schools are directed to prepare and implement a school plan and consult with district and department personnel to receive technical assistance to meet AYP in a year. Level 5 schools are directed to undergo a two-year restructuring.
Not meeting AYP in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for the 2008-2009 school year were:
Connections, a districtwide homeschool program, level 5, economically disadvantaged students not proficient in math, students with disabilities not proficient in language arts, low graduation rate;
Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, level 1, students with disabilities not proficient in language arts;
Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, level 2, low graduation rate;
Mountain View Elementary School, level 1, students with disabilities not proficient in language arts and math;
Nikiski Middle/Senior High School, level 2, economically disadvantaged students not proficient in math, students with disabilities not proficient in math;
Nikiski North Star Elementary, level 1, students with disabilities not proficient in language arts;
Port Graham School, level 3, school as a whole not proficient in language arts and math;
Spring Creek School at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, level 4, low participation rate for school as a whole;
Tebughna School, Tyonek, level 1, school as a whole not proficient in language arts and math.
Challenges faced by Connections, with a K-12 enrollment last year of 970 students, are similar to those faced by other homeschool programs.
"In the past, the biggest reason for (Connections) not making AYP was because of the participation rate. We were not able to get all the kids to participate," said Sean Dusek, KPBSD assistant superintendent.
Having closed that gap, the district is now addressing how to increase the involvement of Connections families through online curriculum, tutoring sessions for parents and increased follow-up between faculty and families.
To meet the needs of students with disabilities, Atwater said the district is "looking for the best possible staff," is offering teachers more professional development and is continuing to review processes for working with students in this category, which account for approximately 12 percent of the district's 9,000 students.
"We're also looking at different ways to engage students, implementing some new technology and helping staff implement it appropriately," Sean Dusek, KPBSD assistant superintendent, added.
Similar to other schools in the district, Port Graham's small size works against it.
"It's not the smallest, but it's one of the smallest. We're anticipating 14 kids this year," Atwater said. "Teaching assignments that span kindergarten through sixth can be very challenging. We need to help teachers be well-versed in strategies for multi-age classrooms."
The Tyonek school of Tebughna experienced a high turnover of faculty during the 2008-2009 school year, with "some students seeing three different teachers," Atwater said. The school is set to begin the 2009-2010 year with a new principal, Donald Frashier, and a staff that is hoped will stay at the school.
More high schools in the district made AYP during the 2008-2009 school year than the previous year. That reflects the benefit of an intervention process that focuses on students' areas of weakness and an emphasis in making sure the students graduate, Atwater said.
Of concern to Sammy Crawford, KPBSD board president, is NCLB's emphasis on language arts and math and the lack of assessment in "so many other skills that are important to kids." Looking toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency in 2013-2014, Crawford said, "That's a big challenge."
Sunni Hilts, KPBSD board vice president, sees other weaknesses in the NCLB assessment.
"It doesn't measure progress, so if your school came up, you don't get credit for that," she said.
However, that doesn't discourage the district from its goal: educating every child.
"It's never going to go away as a goal because we'll never get there 100 percent, but we'll always strive for it," Hilts said.
Atwater also stressed the need for continued improvement.
"The numbers we have as a whole are impressive and good, but we're not going to rest on those laurels," he said. "We recognize we have room for improvement."
LeDoux closed his teleconference with a note of encouragement.
"Do we feel good? No. But do we feel we're making progress? Yes," he said. "But I will never be happy until 100 percent of our students are successful and we have a measure that really measures what we want."
For more information on AYP, visit the Web at www.eed.state.ak.us/.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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