Schools split in state standards

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2003

A little more than half of the 41 schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District did not meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals as required under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development announced Wednesday.

But that means almost half 20 schools did meet the goals, and that's saying something, according to district officials.

As Superintendent Donna Peterson has pointed out in the past, "There are 31 ways to fail, and only one way to pass."

State Education Commissioner Roger Sampson agreed Wednesday during a press conference in which he released the preliminary lists of schools that did and did not pass the requirements.

"It's a very, very complex regulation," Sampson said. "There are some very high performing schools that did not make annual yearly progress. They are some of our best schools."

Statewide, 282 out of 488 schools missed the standards.

The state requirements for AYP are based on scores and participation rates in annual state-mandated assessment tests. The tests include the Alaska Benchmark Exams given to students in grades three, six and eight; the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam administered to 10th-graders; and the Terra Nova tests given in grades four, five, seven and nine.

To meet AYP standards, at least 64.03 percent of students in each Alaska school had to earn "proficient" scores in language arts last spring, and 54.86 percent had to score proficiently in math. The same percentage of students in each of nine subgroups African-American, Native Alaskan, American Indian, Asian-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities and low English proficiency also had to pass.

However, the AYP standards also require that 95 percent of all students in a school, as well as 95 percent of students in each subgroup, actually take the test.

It is the participation requirement that kept many Alaska schools from making the cut, Sampson said.

"We have 51 schools in Alaska that are on the list as not making AYP for one reason only: They did not have every one of the subgroups reach 95 percent or higher in participation," he said.

"Is that school not performing? Maybe. Or maybe we need to find out why it didn't have 95 percent participation."

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District specifically, five of the 21 schools missed AYP due only to low participation scores. Soldotna High School, Homer Middle School and Kenai Alter-native High School, as well as the Connections home-school program and Spring Creek Correctional Center program, had less than 95 percent of the total student body complete the tests.

Another stumbling block for the district came in specific subgroups.

"We certainly have things to work on with some of the groups of kids," said Assistant Superinten-dent Gary Whiteley. "Specifically, math for African-American students and math and language arts for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency."

Low test scores in those subgroups accounted for 11 of the 21 "not passing" scores in the district, including Chapman Elementary, Kenai Middle, Kenai Central High, Nikiski Elementary, Nikiski Middle-Senior High, Tustumena Elementary, North Star Elementary, Mountain View Elementary, Sew-ard Elementary, Skyview High, Soldotna Middle and Voznesenka schools.

Only three of the 21 schools reported that students schoolwide scored below the state standards in either math or language arts: Nanwalek, Kachemak Selo and Homer Flex.

The schools that failed to meet AYP as well as the specific subgroups that scored low on the assessment tests will continue to receive attention this coming year to avoid repeating their status next year, administrators said.

First of all, Whiteley said, the district needs to address participation.

"Certainly, we're going to get everybody tested," he said.

The district also will continue to analyze the data to identify where there are gaps in learning and explore new options for fixing the shortcomings.

"The data is powerful," said Glenn Haupt, director of secondary education curriculum and assessment. "We have to start looking at it, seeing what questions it generates then explore the 'whys.'"

The one thing the district will not do, though, is admit to failure.

"Certain things we've learned we can do better," Whiteley said. "But we anticipated it. We knew it was coming and we'll address the areas we can."

Overall, though, Whiteley said it's important to remember students in the district did remarkably well. Districtwide, 81 percent of students are proficient in language arts and 74 percent are proficient in math.

"Districtwide, we're about where the federal government expects us to be in 2009-10," he said.

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