September 11, 2008

More Schools Make Grade

By Barbara Hollingsworth

By Barbara Hollingsworth


Even with raised expectations, Kansas and Topeka-area schools this year leaped testing hurdles in greater numbers than last year.

More Kansas schools were expected to stumble on the state's annual reading and math assessments as more children are required to reach proficient levels. However, two fewer schools locally and 15 fewer statewide on Wednesday were listed as having failed to make adequate yearly progress. Overall, 90 percent of Kansas schools met the mark -- up from 89 percent in 2007 and 84 percent in 2006.

It was as if a pole vaulter became more likely to clear the bar as it was raised higher.

"We are very proud of the work that has happened in the state of Kansas," said Diane DeBacker, deputy education commissioner.

Highland Park High School for the first time in the history of the federal No Child Left Behind label made adequate yearly progress. On Wednesday morning, staff members reviewed test data to drive teaching decisions for this school year.

"As the bar goes up, we have to up our game," said Frankie Lizar, a literacy coach.

Highland Park was part of a trend of higher success rates among the state's secondary schools. While two additional elementary schools statewide failed to make adequate yearly progress, 14 fewer middle schools and three fewer high schools missed the mark.

In the past, those schools have struggled more at achieving the needed boosts in scores. Last year, for example, all but one middle school and one high school in Topeka Unified School District 501 missed the mark. This year, three of the six district middle schools achieved the standard.

"That's really good news," DeBacker said.

Certainly, high schools have benefited from a change in testing procedures that doesn't mandate the year during which students must take the test and have their scores counted. This was the second year for that testing provision.

Nancy Hutzell, curriculum coordinator at Highland Park, said students who have benefited from years of positive interventions are now in the high school where even more help is available. Also, she said teachers have worked really hard, traditional language arts and math topics are now a priority of all teachers, and students are taking more ownership in the test.

"It's all paying off," Hutzell said from her office in the school's Career Center.

In all, 13 area schools failed to make adequate yearly progress. In Topeka USD 501, they were Avondale East, Shaner, Linn, Lundgren, Quincy, State Street and Whitson elementary schools; Eisenhower and Landon middle schools; Hope Street Academy Charter Middle School; and Capital City School. The district overall missed the mark as did the state.

In Shawnee Heights USD 450, Shawnee Heights Middle School and Tecumseh South Elementary School failed to make adequate yearly progress.

Landon principal Bob Cronkhite said the results are disappointing. A reclassification of students who had taken an alternative assessment contributed to the school missing the mark, he said. The school, he said, is working hard within its budget and staffing restraints.

"We have great people," he said. "We have great kids. I'm not embarrassed at all about our scores. They've made progress. They just haven't made enough progress to meet the goals set by the national legislators."

In Shawnee Heights, superintendent Marty Stessman said the district looks closely at its data to focus interventions and drive instruction. Lots of changes have been made in the past three years to reach struggling students and improve instruction.

"We acknowledge that we're not getting the job done the way we want to get it done," he said. "We haven't shirked from that challenge one bit."

The data released Wednesday doesn't indicate why the schools missed AYP. Even if a school overall reaches performance benchmarks, it will fail to make AYP if just one subgroup of students misses the mark. More data will be released next month.

As the state marches toward the 2014 federal No Child Left Behind mandate that every student be proficient in reading and math, more schools are expected to make the list, DeBacker warned. Then again, those warnings aren't new.

"The progress we have seen from what they have done has been nothing short of remarkable," said state education commissioner Alexa Posny.

Barbara Hollingsworth can be reached at (785) 295-1285

or [email protected]

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