July 2, 2008

Program to Help Boost Test Scores

By Ashley Smith, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Jul. 2--A federal pilot program may provide local Title I schools with the means to improve test scores more effectively, local officials say.

The schools will have more options available to them to raise ISTEP+ scores if they fail to show "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) as required by federal law. Title I schools receive more federal taxpayer money to help at-risk students because they have a large percentage of students from low-income families.

"This is just one more piece that is going to be helpful (in raising test scores)," said East Allen County Schools Title I Administrator Jeanne Zehr. All three of EACS' Title I schools failed to make AYP last year.

Under the program, Indiana will divide the Title I schools needing improvement into two categories. Most of those 220 schools will need focused improvement, such as tutoring services or professional development. But 50 schools will likely need comprehensive improvement, meaning they need to take extensive measures to meet yearly goals. Those schools will participate in year-round, computer-based testing and will hire full-time math and reading coaches, state officials said.

Zehr said EACS will offer tutoring at Village, Southwick and Meadowbrook elementary schools, all Title I schools, beginning this fall. An official with Fort Wayne Community Schools, which has failed to meet AYP for the past six years, said the initiative is one long-awaited. "I think this is a step in the right direction," said John Kline, FWCS' school improvement director.

The district -- which has 13 Title I schools -- remains uncertain how it will implement the program, but Kline said, "It's important that the state and the district focus those dollars on individual schools that need it."

AYP designations for Indiana schools, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, are determined by schools' performance on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+). Elementary and middle school attendance rates, as well as high school graduation rates, are also measured. Each year that a school does not meet AYP, it faces penalties, such as offering a school-choice program, removing principals, becoming a charter school or ultimately having the state take over the district. Under the pilot program, Title I schools will be given the options of using the sanctions that work best for them.

"There are many states that say, 'You've got it wrong. Give us the help first (before the penalties),'" Zehr said.

In March, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that some pilot states would be able to offer different sanctions to schools based on the degree to which they miss annual progress goals -- six were approved, and Indiana made the cut.

"Experience shows us that tailoring support based on need is more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to turning around struggling schools," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed said in a statement. "We welcome this opportunity to focus Indiana's improvement efforts on those students and schools that need the most help."

Ultimately, under No Child Left Behind all schools nationwide are to meet AYP by 2014. This program is targeted to help meet that goal. Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland and Ohio were chosen from 17 states that applied for the pilot program. Each chosen state can create its own formulas to help struggling schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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