August 5, 2008

Decatur’s Results Mixed: City School System Makes Accountability Goals, but Still Behind on SAT-10 Scores

By Bayne Hughes, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

Aug. 5--Decatur City Schools had mixed results in the 2007-08 test scores released Monday by the state Department of Education.

The school system achieved its adequate yearly progress goals, the measure the state uses for accountability under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The goals focus on the grades 3-8 students' scores on the Alabama Reading and Math Test, attendance and graduation rates, and graduation exam results in the high schools. Accountability requires that each school test at least 95 percent of its students.

Although making an average 2.5 percentile improvement over last year, Decatur continues to trail neighboring school systems in its Stanford Achievement Test, 10th Edition, scores.

Superintendent Sam Houston said the school system is clear in every area except graduation rate. Austin and Decatur high schools and Brookhaven Middle School were the only schools in the system that didn't meet their goals.

Austin High's graduation rate dropped five percentage points to 80 percent, while Decatur High's fell two points to 76 percent. Houston said he thinks the systemwide 80 percent graduation rate dropped because the formula includes special education and English-language learners.

Houston said both high schools are increasing their remediation and mentoring programs and doing more student tracking.

While the graduation rate declined, Decatur scored a 97.7 percent average on the graduation exam, with only one student failing to pass any of the exam's three parts. Austin had a 95.3 percent average.

Houston said the test scores show that schools are doing a good job of preparing students for graduation, if the students reach that point.

He said the school system "made significant gains" in students scoring at or above proficiency on the reading and math test. Students in grades 6-8 scored 17.7 points higher in reading and 30.5 higher in math. Special education has been an area of concern in the past, but the system made its goal.

"We're seeing a lot of good signs," Houston said.

A success story among the elementary schools is Somerville Road Elementary. This is the first time since accountability testing began in the late 1990s that Somerville Road is not facing academic sanctions from the state.

The Southeast Decatur school made its 29 goals for the first time last year, but needed to achieve its goals two years in a row, which it did, to earn an all clear from the state.

"Somerville Road has done a marvelous job of intervention and focusing on the students who are struggling," Houston said.

Brookhaven Middle School was the only school in the system that did not achieve its testing goals. Houston said the school didn't test at least 95 percent of its students in the Hispanic, white and special-education categories. He plans to talk to school officials to find out why they didn't test the required percentages of students.

Brookhaven also didn't achieve its proficiency goals in special education reading.

Slight improvement

Another standardized test on which the government measures the schools is the Stanford test, which students in grades 3-8 take. Decatur improved its overall average percentile rate to 52.5, a 2.5 increase, with 50 being the national average.

"We're working at not just maintaining but moving forward, and we want to do it at a faster pace," Houston said.

Director of Curriculum Jeanne Payne said they scored about the 50th percentile in math in all six grades. She said the students educated in the Mobile Math Initiative began moving into the middle schools, and the sixth grade showed a 4 percent gain in math.

Even in the areas like third- and sixth-grade reading, where scores were below the national average, those scores improved, Houston said. He isn't happy with the reading scores, but promised help is on the way.

The school system is starting a new comprehensive reading program, Imagine It, in pre-kindergarten through fifth grades.

"We should start seeing the same kind of results that we're seeing with the math initiative," Payne said.

Leon Sheffield Magnet was the highest among the elementary schools, scoring in the 80s in every category. It's fifth-grade math score was a system-high 87.

Walter Jackson Elementary was the leader among the non-magnets, with every score above 60 percent.

Payne said Oak Park Middle School led the way in improvement with better scores in every area. Cedar Ridge Middle School's sixth grade showed the biggest jump, moving from a 51 to a 61 in reading.

"Oak is a lighthouse in every area," Payne said.

On the other hand, Brookhaven's scores dropped or went unchanged in every category. The school's highest score was 35 in eighth-grade language.


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