By JOHN SENA | The New MexicanWhen the latest standardized test results were announced in early August, only 12 of the 30 public schools in Santa Fe met federal testing requirements.
August 27, 2006
Did those schools fail their students? Did their teachers do a rotten job? Is it time for the state to start thinking about restructuring plans?
Talk to the person on the street, and the answers might be yes. Talk to any of the principals or teachers at those schools, and they'd say their schools are getting a bad rap.
So what do those dreaded standardized tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act really measure, and are they a fair way to look at the job a school is doing?
First of all, what is adequate yearly progress, or AYP? One big misunderstanding about federal requirements and test results is the idea that all students across the United States are being graded on the same scale. While most states have worked to align their curricula to federal standards and their tests are similar, the way states set goals can be different. So AYP means different things for students in different states.
New Mexico, for example, identifies students as beginning steps, nearing proficiency, proficient and advanced -- depending on test scores.
To make AYP, a certain portion of a school's students have to fall in the proficient or advanced ranges. The state determines the percentage annually.
Colorado, which gives students a test similar to the one taken in New Mexico, combined its partially proficient and proficient categories, reducing the number of designations to three as permitted under the law. That means the state can set high goals but still meet them because ``proficiency'' covers a wider range of scores.
Therefore, it might appear that Colorado's students are doing better than New Mexico's.
New Mexico required only 23 percent of last year's elementary students to be proficient in math. Forty percent of third-graders reached that goal, but if students nearing proficiency were included, that number would rise to 87 percent.
The way a state sets goals also determines the amount of progress its schools must show from one year to the next.
New Mexico began the process by asking schools to show a low level of proficiency, but by 2013-14, No Child Left Behind calls for 100 percent of all U.S. public school students to be proficient. In an effort to achieve that goal, New Mexico school officials have laid out a series of increasingly higher goals that lead to 100 percent.
Next year, 28 percent of elementary students must be proficient in math. In 2007-08, that goal increases to 41 percent and so on until 2014.
Colorado, by contrast, will still require 82 percent proficiency this year, the same goal since 2004-05. It will jump to 88 percent in 2007-08 and remain there until 2009-10.
Within individual districts, there are different requirements depending on the size and diversity of the schools.
One of the objectives of No Child Left Behind is to make sure a school serves all its students. So every subgroup of 25 or more students in a school must also make AYP. There are a possible 36 subgroups, and these include race, economic status and English Language Learners.
There have been reported cases of high-achieving schools that routinely sent students to Ivy League colleges, but test results revealed they were failing to serve their minority and poor students.
A school such as Pinon Elementary, which tested 361 students this year, has to meet proficiency requirements in 21 subgroups -- and made AYP. Last year, however, the school failed to meet requirements because not enough of its special education subgroup was proficient in math and reading. In the case of reading, the school was short four hundredths of a percent, a difference that officials said might mean one student missing one question.
A small school like Acequia Madre, which tested 93 students this year, had to meet requirements in 12 subgroups. Scores from other groups with less than 25 students, such as English Language Learners, special education students and economically disadvantaged students, did not count toward AYP. Had those scores counted, Acequia Madre would still have met requirements.
In addition to each subgroup, there is an ``additional indicator'' that factors into whether a school makes AYP. High schools must report a graduation rate of greater than 90 percent, and middle and elementary schools must report attendance rates of at least 92 percent.
There is a provision in the No Child Left Behind Act called Safe Harbor. It allows a school to fall short of the proficiency goal and still make AYP if it reduces the percent of students below proficient by 10 percent from the previous year. No Santa Fe schools met that criteria.
While the majority of principals and teachers agree that a school should serve the needs of every student and should be held accountable if it doesn't, many do not like the way tests results affect public perception and staff morale.
Most educators think the public does not understand how hard they work or the challenges they face. Is it fair for a school with 100 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch to be judged on the same basis as a school with less than 30 percent in that category?
If more than two-thirds of a school's population is made up of English Language Learners, should that school be compared to a school with only a handful?
Officials say most people don't understand those intricacies. Instead, parents rush to judgment about a school and pull their children out as soon as they can. Agua Fria Elementary, which is in the restructuring phase of the state's school-improvement framework, loses students every year despite making progress. The district received 47 requests for transfers out of the school for the 2006-07 school year.
Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said the parents who leave schools are often the most involved, something she thinks is a bad thing. ``We need those parents to stay involved at those schools,'' Garcia said.
Monday, August 28, 2006
AYP Primer for Parents
This is a very good explanation of AYP, if you need one. If not, skip to the bolded section at the end of the piece to hear about the effects of unfair and impossible expectations: