ahs_testing05.jpgBILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Kristin Coe, English teacher at Abingdon High School, gives instructions to students during their homeroom period Thursday morning. The time is designed for students to prepare for the Prairie State Achievement Exam, which under the No Child Left Behind Act, all juniors are required to take.

The struggle to define student progress

Schools under pressure to meet rising NCLB standards or face sanctions

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When the bell rings at 10:53 a.m. at Abingdon High School, a group of 11th-graders heads to room 16 at the end of a long hallway to study for standardized tests.

The homeroom period is designated to help students prepare to meet math and reading standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, which will be given to high school juniors statewide next month.

Abingdon students take practice tests and learn test-taking skills during the 30-minute sessions so teachers don't have to use valuable instructional time in the regular classroom teaching to the high-stakes tests.

Setting aside time specifically for test-preparation is one measure the school has taken to try to get off Academic Watch Status after not making Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, for the first four years of the No Child Left Behind Act.

It's also a sign of the times.

Test scores and school data released this month by the Illinois State Board of Education are the fourth set under No Child Left Behind, which requires all states to set annual standards and track the achievement of each public school and district with standardized tests.

The PSAE is given to high school juniors and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test is given to grades three through eight.

Schools and districts that meet those standards overall, and in nine subgroups, make AYP. Schools that continually don't make AYP can face sanctions as they are moved to different levels of the state's accountability system.

The past two years, 47.5 percent of students overall and in each subgroup had to meet or exceed standards to make AYP. The bar is being raised to 55 percent for the tests students are taking this spring.

Per NCLB, the goal is to have 100 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards by 2014.

As the stakes get higher and schools face sanctions for not meeting AYP, the push to meet standards is leading to curriculum changes, more pressure on educators and students and a growing dependence on the terms of NCLB to define student progress.

Stakes get higher, tests more important every year

In 2001, 35.9 percent of Abingdon High School juniors met state standards. The following year, the success rate rose to 48.7 percent, but it was not enough to keep the school off the state's Academic Early Warning List because math scores were still too low.

By law, schools are placed on Academic Early Warning Status if they fail to make AYP for two consecutive years.

ahs_testing06.jpg
KENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

Principal Chad Cox speaks with English teacher Kristin Coe following a faculty training session Friday afternoon at Abingdon High School.

When Abingdon High School failed to make AYP for two additional years, in 2003 and 2004, the school sunk to Academic Watch Status. It is the only area school to have reached that rung of Illinois' NCLB accountability ladder thus far.

Schools on Academic Watch Status have two years to improve scores before moving into State Intervention Status, in which school board members, administrators and teachers can be removed by government officials and local control of schools can be eliminated.

On Academic Watch Status, Abingdon High School has had to submit School Improvement Plans to the state.

The school has tweaked and enhanced curriculum, partly by evaluating gaps in the curriculum through evaluation of standardized tests given to freshmen and sophomores.

Principal Chad Cox came on board in 2005. He has initiated performance incentives and peer-mentoring programs for students and pushed faculty to better coordinate teaching across disciplines, so students could be bettering their math and reading skills in all courses.

"It wasn't just math teachers," he said. "It was a school-wide effort. We had to find ways for everyone to pitch in. All the teachers and the students had to buy into it."

The high school made AYP this year for the first time ever, with 60.9 percent of students meeting standards in reading and 54.3 percent meeting standards in math.

Cox said it was the math scores that needed to improve to make AYP, but reading scores were significantly higher as well.

"I was excited," said Cox, who joked he had to refrain from jumping and screaming down the hall when he heard the news. "But I didn't want students to think I'd flipped out."

The school held an assembly and pep rally to celebrate making AYP and give credit to teachers and students.

But the school will remain on Academic Watch Status until it meets standards two years in a row.

"We still have a ways to go," said Cox. "It can't just be one good group that does well. We have to show some consistency."

Subgroup scores stop schools, districts from making AYP

Abingdon High School made AYP.

So did Abingdon Middle School and Hedding Grade School.

But Abingdon District 217 did not make AYP because the scores of students with disabilities fell below the benchmark, making the district one of 54 in the state that got a failing grade despite all of its schools meeting individual standards.

The anomaly has to do with subgroups.

There must be at least 45 students in a subgroup for those scores to be counted. Subgroups include white, African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, multi-racial/ethnic, limited English-proficient, economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities.

While there were not enough students with disabilities for the subgroup to be counted in the individual Abingdon schools, there were enough in the district at-large for the scores to count.

Half of the students with learning disabilities in the district met standards in math, but only 27.9 percent met standards in reading. The state allows 14 percent to be added to percentage of students with disabilities meeting or exceeding standards, but it wasn't enough.

Despite healthy scores in all three schools and in other subgroups, the district didn't make AYP.

Abingdon is not alone.

This year, 686 schools and 201 districts in Illinois failed to make AYP. Of those, 335 schools and 131 districts didn't make AYP solely because students with disabilities failed to meet standards.

A similar situation occurred at Lombard Middle School in Galesburg, where 71.7 percent of students overall met standards in reading and 78.6 percent met standards in math. The subgroups of African-American students and economically disadvantaged students at Lombard also scored well above the 47.5 percent benchmark.

But only 29.9 percent of Lombard students with disabilities met standards in reading, so the school didn't make AYP, even with the 14 percent allowance.

Galesburg High School met standards overall and in all subgroups, except economically disadvantaged students. Because only 36.5 percent of economically disadvantaged students met standards in math and the high school's graduation rate for the same subgroup was below the 69 percent benchmark the previous school year, GHS got a failing grade.

Joel Estes, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Galesburg District 205, said the district is committed to improving test scores and raising graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students, but the calculations of AYP are complex and not always fair.

"We are certainly not proud of those numbers (for economically disadvantaged students)," Estes said.

But he pointed out the test scores are from 2006 while the graduation rate used in the calculation is from 2005. The combination of those two statistics caused the school not to make AYP, despite all other subgroups easily exceeding standards.

"These are some of the unfair, unintended and unbelievable consequences of NCLB," Estes said. "The system is so complex, only a few people understand how it really works."

The results have pushed Galesburg High School to Academic Early Warning Status. The school will have to make AYP for two consecutive years to avoid moving to Academic Watch Status.

Galesburg District 205 at-large didn't make AYP this year, either, due to subgroup scores for students with disabilities.

With 32 percent of students with disabilities meeting standards in reading, plus the 14 percent allowance, the scores for students with disabilities district-wide came in 1.5 percentage points below the benchmark. The district met or exceeded standards in all other areas.

"As a district, we do not make AYP in that one area, and the whole district is labeled as failing," said Estes.

Coming Monday

Five years after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed, are schools crunching curriculum and teaching to the tests to meet standards? Are teachers under more pressure? Are the expectations reasonable? What students are still being left behind? The Register-Mail asks teachers, administrators and parents about how NCLB is changing education, for better or worse.

Top ISAT Scores

All area elementary schools made AYP because at least 47.5 percent of students met or exceeded standards in math and reading. The top 10 area scorers ranged from 85.1 percent meeting and exceeding standards to 94.5 percent. Results are from standardized tests taken in 2006.

School Grades tested* Percentage M/E

ROWVA West Elementary 3-4 94.5

Mable Woolsey Elementary 3-4 92.9

ROWVA Junior High 7-8 92

Gale Elementary 3-5 91.6

Yorkwood Junior High 6-8 88.8

Yorkwood Elementary 3-5 88.7

Cooke Elementary 3-4 87.8

Silas Willard Elementary 3-5 87.1

AlWood Elementary 3-5 85.1

*The ISAT is given to students in grades three through eight. "Grades tested" indicates which of those grades exists at the schools listed.

High School Results: Who Made AYP?

To make AYP, 47.5 percent of students overall must meet or exceed standards in math and reading. 47.5 percent of students in nine subgroups also must meet or exceed standards if schools have at least 45 students in the subgroup. Results are for standardized tests taken in 2006.

Percentage meeting or exceeding state standards

School Reading Math AYP?

Abingdon High School 60.9 54.3 Yes

AlWood Middle/High School* 78.4 72.9 Yes

Galesburg High School** 58.5 56.9 No*

Galva Jr/Sr High School* 63.6 64.4 Yes

Knoxville High School 53.7 53.7 Yes

Monmouth-Roseville High School 61.3 60.4 Yes

ROWVA High School 60.3 51.5 Yes

Williamsfield High School 48 32 Yes

West Central High School 52.3 35.4 No

Yorkwood High School 66.7 79.2 Yes

*Scores for AlWood Middle/High School and Galva Jr/Sr High School represent a combination of ISAT and PSAE scores.

**Galesburg High School did not make AYP because less than 47.5 percent of the subgroup of economically disadvantaged students met standards.

MULTIMEDIA

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