One VWSD school rises in test numbers, two fall

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 3, 2004

[9/3/04]One of Vicksburg Warren School District’s 13 schools has climbed to the superior level and two others have dropped a step, according to data released Thursday from the state Department of Education.

Federal data also released Thursday, based on the same test numbers but applying a different calculation, shows the district’s two high schools did not meet the federally required Adequate Yearly Progress. Superintendent James Price said the problem was not the high schools’ scores, but absenteeism.

In the state equations, a performance classification a Level 5 for Bowmar Avenue this year is handed down from the state after results from statewide tests are applied to a statistical model.

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The remaining 12 schools in the 9,000-student public district were given a Level 3, successful.

“We are very proud and thankful,” said Barbara Burns, principal of Bowmar, which is the district’s magnet elementary. “We’re elated, but we know our work is cut out for us.

“We have to work hard, and we intend to press ahead,” she said, noting that each three years, the bar is raised.

Before this year, school districts’ levels were reported. Under the new requirements, each school’s performance is charted.

According to federal and state requirements, the percentage of students performing at the proficient level or better must increase until, in 2014, 100 percent of students are achieving, at minimum, the proficient level.

Under the No Child Left Behind concept, schools that are lagging must design specific remedial programs.

In 2003, the classification for Bowmar, where students must apply to attend, was a Level 4, or exemplary. The levels, which range from 1 to 5, are based on test results that show achievement and growth in reading, language and math tests.

“There was a lot of planning, cooperation and sharing of ideas,” Burns said. “We examined grades, and anyone who had deficiencies was tutored.”

Dana Road and Warrenton elementaries dropped from a Level 4 to a Level 3.

Price said many factors are involved.

“Each year that passes the state and federal models become increasingly difficult,” he said. Also, special education students were tested at grade level unlike previous years, when the students were tested at instruction level.

For example, last year special education students who were enrolled at a junior high were tested at a level that they could comprehend. This year, if a special education student was enrolled at a school he was tested at the grade level of that school.

A key term is Adequate Yearly Progress. Schools must continually show AYP or face a stepped series of actions. For example, after two years of not meeting AYP, a district is required to notify parents that the school did not meet AYP, and parents can opt to send their children to any school that is successful with AYP.

In the third year, the school and district can lose federal funding.

AYP is measured in reading and language arts, math, and other academic indicators that include attendance and the school’s graduation rate.

In the VWSD, five schools did not meet at least one of the AYP requirements. One school, Vicksburg High School, did not meet any of the requirements for AYP.

The reason, Price said, was because not enough students were tested.

Federal testing guidelines require that 95 percent of students in each of eight categories be tested. The eight categories are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, economically disadvantaged, students whose English-speaking skills are limited and special education students.

Also, if one subcategory does not meet AYP, the school as a whole fails to meet AYP.

Vicksburg High did not test 95 percent of the students in any of the applicable subcategories.

“Had the students been in the building, they would have been tested,” Price said. “We try our best to ensure students’ attendance, but if they don’t show up, we can’t test them.”

Price said administrators are now auditing attendance using district personnel, instead of relying on the state’s attendance officers.

“We’ve been working over the last three weeks, not only with Vicksburg High, but with all schools,” Price said. “We’ve established, with the Youth Court, a process to hold the parents accountable who routinely allow their children to miss school.”

He added that state law says an excused absence requires only a note from a parent.

“Teachers are now asked to give the names of habitually absent students to our attendance officers, and, for the first time, we’ve employed social workers to actually visit the homes to see why students are not in classes,” Price said.

Absenteeism was also the cause for Warren Central not making AYP, Price said.

That school, on Mississippi 27, only tested 85 percent of black students in the mathematics test, and that, not the scores, caused the school not to meet AYP.

The other schools that did not meet AYP are Beechwood and Sherman Avenue elementaries and Warren Central Junior High.

Those schools did not reach goals in either reading, language or math set by the federal government.

But Price was optimistic about the coming year.

“Regardless of what the federal and state governments say are the standards we are to meet, all of us within the community are going to do everything within our power to see to it that each and every student meets his fullest potential.

“As long as that’s our goal, we can surely anticipate meeting the requirements that are mandated.”