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Fewer Children Left Behind

Scores show that Alexandria students are improving but must make more progress.

<bt>Alexandria’s federal report card came out last week, showing improvement in several schools. But the district as a whole failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” — the gold standard for demonstrating improvement under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. To make adequate yearly progress, known as “AYP” in education circles, a school or district must meet 29 benchmarks in 7 subgroups.

The 2006 annual measurable objectives —grades that must be achieved in order to pass — are that 69 percent of students must pass the English test and 67 percent of students must pass the Math test. These objectives increase every year until 2014, when the act requires 100 percent perfection for all 29 benchmarks. This year, the district failed to meet these standards in two subgroups: 68 percent of students with limited English proficiency passed the English test and 63 percent of disabled students passed the English test. Nevertheless, Superintendent Rebecca Perry was upbeat about the overall performance of Alexandria’s schools.

“I am extremely pleased with our progress,” Perry said. “Last year, three elementary schools did not make AYP. This year, all three of those schools, Mount Vernon Community School, James Polk Elementary and Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics, demonstrated dramatic increases in student achievement.”

The only elementary school that did not make AYP this year is Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. It failed to meet benchmarks in three areas: 64 percent of Hispanic students passed in English, 67 percent of students with limited English proficiency passed in English and 68 percent of disadvantaged students passed in English. Because more than 40 percent its students at the school qualify for free or reduced lunch, Cora Kelly qualifies for federal money under Title 1 of No Child Left Behind — but it is also subject to punishments if it fails to meet the federal benchmarks. If the school doesn’t meet AYP again next year, it will have to offer tutoring to its students.

“It’s important to note that we met 26 out of 29 benchmarks,” said Cora Kelly Principal Darren Reed. “We service a very diverse school community here, and 35 percent of our students are Spanish speakers — some who are brand new to the English language and others who are extremely proficient.”

Reed said that he plans to implement a school-wide focus on literacy to improve students’ proficiency with English. He also plans to work with teachers to make sure they have the resources to work toward higher scores in all the school’s subgroups — especially the three that failed to meet the federal standards.

“We have to close that gap as quickly and effectively as we can,” Reed said. “Every staff member has a professional goal to make sure that we close the gap for the groups that didn’t make AYP. We are confident that this can happen.”

THREE SCHOOLS that do not receive money under Title 1 of the federal act did not meet AYP. Because they don’t receive money, no punishments will be levied against them. But their inability to meet standards is nevertheless a reflection of low test scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning test.

Hammond Middle School failed to meet two benchmarks for students with limited English proficiency. Fifty-five percent of these students passed the English test and 35 percent of them passed the Math test. T.C Williams High School missed the mark in three areas — 53 percent of disabled students passed in English and 59 percent of students with limited English proficiency passed in English. The high school also missed a participation benchmark because not enough disabled students took the Math test.

George Washington Middle School had the largest number of missed benchmarks, with seven subgroups failing to make the cut: 22 percent of disabled students passed in Math, 25 percent of disadvantaged students passed in Math, 27 percent of black students passed in Math, 32 percent of Hispanic students passed in Math, 62 percent of black students passed in English, 66 percent of Hispanic students passed in English and 62 percent of disabled students passed in English.

“We will continue to focus on those areas needing improvement,” said Perry. "Of course we will be looking closely at those schools that did not meet all of the benchmarks, but we can’t ease up at any of our schools because the bar is raised each year.”