District’s AYP becoming more of a concern
It's happened in Lawrence and it may be happening here in the near future.
State schools may reach the standard of excellence rating on the Kansas State Assessment exams, but can fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for the same test.
"It will happen here," said Tom Mundinger, Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center principal. "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when. It will happen here and it will happen at the junior high."
In December, the Lawrence Journal-World reported Southwest Junior High School made the Standard of Excellence rating for the reading test. It was also reported that the school failed to make AYP goal in math or reading, according to the state's standards in accordance with the No Child Left Behind law.
"Southwest Junior High School had some of the highest scores in the district, but they didn't make AYP," said Connie Wright, Baldwin Junior High School principal.
Mundinger and Wright fear that many other schools, including theirs, are going to suffer the fate of Southwest Junior High.
"What I predict is going to happen is more and more schools will not make AYP in the next few years," Mundinger said. "Overall, they may do fine on the tests and even make standard of excellence. It sounds ridiculous that you can even do that."
Spreading the word
At the Jan. 8 Board of Education meeting, Mundinger and Wright made a presentation about the assessments and AYP.
The two principals first began by revealing the results of the 2006 assessments and explaining how to view them on the Internet. The results can be found at http://online.ksde.org/rcard/county.aspx?cnty_no=023.
"Mr. Mundinger and I are in charge of state assessments and so we were trying to give the board an update," Wright said. "We just wanted to talk to them formally about how we did on assessments, which was very good. We wanted to tell them that they could look at the building report cards."
Both BESIC and BJHS, along with Marion Springs Elementary School, met the Standard of Excellence in all tests and as a building.
"I am very happy," Wright said. "We scored standard of excellence in every area. It can't get any better."
Of course, the two principals were also the bearers of bad news at the meeting. They also had to inform the school board about the changes in the assessments and how those might affect the district.
"We wanted to make sure they had an understanding of how the change in the testing last year has impacted the junior high and intermediate center, in particular," Mundinger said. "If you look at all of the state assessment tests that are required to be given in our district, 75 percent of them are given in these two buildings. These two buildings get hit really hard, because every kid in the buildings takes a minimum of two assessments."
In 2005, BESIC and BJHS only took two assessments each. Last year the number of tests given to grades three through eight tripled.
Every student in all six grades was required to take a reading and math assessment, raising the number of tests in the buildings from two to six.
This year, grades five and eight are also required to take a writing exam. In the following years, social studies and science assessments will be given to different grade levels.
One problem with the increase in the number of tests given is finding time or equipment to administer the assessments.
"It's like when they (Kansas State Department of Education) said you are going to have to take all of your tests on the computer," Wright said. "That's a wonderful thing to say, but in this building that means that I have to have 300 computers available that work.
"The biggest problem is I don't have a server that can load 300 computers and carry that," Wright said. "It's great to say that, but when school districts don't have the money, facilities or technology to back all of that up, you can't do that."
Another problem that arises with more tests is the increased chance to not make AYP.
"We also wanted to make sure that they (school board members) understood that the more tests you give, the more opportunities there are to fail," Mundinger said. "I hate to put it in those terms, but the more tests you give, the more desegregated groups you have. The only two schools that have to worry about desegregated groups are these two buildings (BESIC and BJHS)."
Each year the state assessment results can bring good and bad news for schools across Kansas. Schools must have a certain percentage of students who score on the "meet the standard" level or above to make AYP.
Beginning last year, the state mark for the reading and math exams increased a few percentage points. It will keep increasing to where it reaches 100 percent in 2014.
In 2006, BESIC had 95.4 percent of its students proficient or above on the reading exam and 96.8 percent on the math assessment. But it's not the entire school's scores that concern the principals.
"Rather than look at the whole school, they look at those subgroups to determine AYP, Mundinger said. "It's good that they do that, because you can't forget a certain segment of your population. It forces you to pay particular attention to all of your groups."
A subgroup can only exist if at least 30 students are taking a specific assessment in a school. Every school in the state can have up to nine subgroups per test.
Those are free/reduced lunches, students with disabilities, English language learners, African Americans, Hispanics, Whites, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians and multi-ethnic.
"The bigger the school, coupled with the grade configuration of the school, the more opportunities to have subgroups," Mundinger said. "The more subgroups you have, the more opportunities you have to not be successful."
The two Baldwin schools have the free/reduced lunches, students with disabilities and whites subgroups. Wright said the district is lucky in a way to only have the three subgroups.
"We are very fortunate," Wright said. "This is a case where small schools have an advantage over large schools. Ones that are really small and don't have any subgroups are very lucky. The more kids you have, the harder it is to get that accomplished."
Despite the small advantage, both principals are concerned that one of the subgroups will keep the schools from making AYP in the near future.
"I would say what will happen in our district, eventually the junior high and intermediate center will not make AYP, because of one of our subgroups," Mundinger said.
One reason for his concern came from an article he found in the Parsons Sun newspaper.
"It had an article about how their schools did on the assessments," Mundinger said. "Whoever they were talking to talked about how the state was predicting that on this year's assessment (2007), half of the schools in the state won't make AYP."
The subgroup that raises concern is the students with disabilities group. At the school board meeting, Wright reported that the federal government is trying to limit what help special education students can have during their assessments. These new mandates by the federal government have Wright concerned.
"A child is in special education, because they have a difficulty or challenge," Wright said. "When you start taking away the accommodations that we as a school district say they have to have to be successful, it doesn't make sense. It's crazy. They (federal government) is trying to standardize everything, but there is no standardization to it, because every state has their own assessment."
The rising standards by the state along with the subgroups have Mundinger believing that schools around the state will soon be joining each other on the quest to once again make AYP.
"If you just watch the news over the next two to four years, it will have no meaning, because so many schools are not going to be making AYP," Mundinger said. "They will be reporting the few schools that do make AYP, instead of the ones that don't."
What could happen?
If Mundinger is correct in his prediction, then hundreds of schools around the state will suffer the same penalty for not making AYP. The consequences begin when a schools fails to meet AYP two consecutive years.
"You have to not make AYP two years in a row and then you are put on improvement," Mundinger said. "Each year you don't make AYP, the sanctions get heavier. The reality is, in my opinion, you are going to see more and more schools not make AYP each successive year here, because the bar keeps going up."
If a school fails to improve, then harsher penalties could occur. The state might send people to the school to help the students learn better or it might clean house and bring in new staff.
"They have said there are all of these sanctions," Wright said. "They said you are a school on improvement or they could come in and fire all of your staff. Usually what happens is you are a school on improvement, but if you don't improve, the state sends people to offer assistance. Eventually, the consequences become more difficult to where they say they will fire people and bring new staff in.
"However, in real life there are so many schools that aren't making AYP, that they can't do all of that," Wright said. "They are even having trouble keeping the manpower to the schools to help. It's crazy, because the money has not followed the law. They don't have enough money to do all of the things they said they are going to do at the state level."
Since the penalties seem harsh, Mundinger and Wright hope their schools continue making AYP. But if they don't, like predicted, they hope to hold out longer than many other schools around the state.
"I don't mean to sound negative or defeated, because our kids and teachers do a great job. I am hoping that we will be one of the last ones to reach that point," Mundinger said.
Wright said she wants people to know that the Baldwin district isn't the only one affected by the state assessments and AYP.
"We just wanted them to know that we are not isolated," Wright said. "We are all in this together. It's going to become very difficult, if not impossible to make 100 percent."