Local public elementaries tested, found ‘proficient’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 9, 2008

The final report card for schools in the Vicksburg Warren School District during the past school year show all nine elementary schools passed federal standards.

The federal government rates schools on average yearly progress based on the MCT2 and subject-area tests. The results of the tests were released this morning.

Each elementary school in the district, with the exception of Bovina Elmentary which was not reopened until August, met AYP, a feat superintendent Dr. James Price said is extraordinary for multiple reasons.

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“This is not as simple as putting a number into an equation,” said Price. “A multitude of factors goes into meeting AYP. At each school there are 19 ways that AYP cannot be met; all it takes is one of those ways to not be met, and the entire school does not meet AYP that year.”

Each school is graded overall and in subcategories based on the scores of those tests. The subcategories are students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency, economically disadvantaged students based on free lunch status, Asian, black, Hispanic, Native American and white students. Schools also must meet an attendance requirement.

Each school is required to meet — in each grade and in each subject — a federally mandated percentage of proficiency. If one area is failed, the whole school stands to fail.

Schools are required to improve every three years, and the goal is to have 100 percent of students at least “proficient” by 2014.

“We weren’t expected to make AYP this year because the newly implemented tests are more rigorous on top of the standards being raised,” Price said, “and we did.”

Schools also are allowed to meet AYP under “Safe Harbor,” meaning the proficiency percentage was not reached but fewer students were nonproficient.

After the first year of not meeting AYP, schools are moved to an “in improvement” status. When that happens, the district is required to send home a letter laying out the option for students to transfer to a school that did meet AYP.

“Last year, Vicksburg Intermediate was our only school to not meet AYP and it was only one category that prevented it,” said Price. “We did send letters to parents and luckily no one really wanted to leave the school. As a parent, it would be hard to take a child out of school in the middle of the semester and move them; that would be difficult on the child.”

Though Vicksburg Intermediate met AYP this year, the school will remain in improvement for a second year as part of standard process.

If the elementary school had not met AYP this year, it would have been moved to an “in improvement year two” status, during which the government requires 20 percent of the title money the district receives to go to instruction materials for the school. In the third year, the district would have to restructure, and in the fourth the school would be shut down.

“I really attribute our test performance to our lead teachers and to the Benchmark tests taken every week,” said Price.

Benchmark tests are part of a software program written by Price. Notes were created for the program by lead teachers in each subject and an infrared device mounted to the ceiling of the classrooms allows those notes to be projected onto a screen.

“We used our lead teachers in each area to create the curriculum,” said Price. “Now each grade in each subject, no matter the school, should be learning the same thing every day.”

After teaching the material, teachers administer tests to the students using the program. Each student has a remote control and electronically selects the answers to questions as the teacher reads them aloud. The results are logged into a computer system that both the teacher and central office staff can see.

“For the first time, we really know what kind of grades students are getting and the teachers who need to work on teaching particular skills,” said Price. “Before grade inflation was a problem, but now that we have the raw numbers we can see how each child and each teacher is doing.”

Price said the district is in the process of copyrighting the program.

Most of the district’s 9,000-plus students took one of the two tests that determine school’s rankings. Third- through eight-grade students took the MCT2 in math and reading while high school students took Subject Area Tests in English, math, biology and U.S. history. Raw scores for the tests, released Sept. 26, showed the district to be in line with state averages.

Because the VWSD does not put title money into secondary schools, only grades 3 through 6 are ranked on the AYP scale.

Normally the state would assign a level to each elementary school. That level is based on improvement shown by test results, but the implementation of the new tests hindered the ability to compare scores to last year’s. Levels will be assigned again in 2009.

Private and parochial schools are not tested or ranked under the same guidelines.