• 66°

PE Schools Short On AYP

PRINCE EDWARD – None of Prince Edward schools reached federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandates, according to figures released by the Virginia Department of Education.

“We're working diligently to make the improvements in…all of the areas where student achievement levels are not high enough to meet that standard with AYP,” Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith told The Herald.

AYP factors performance in four core curriculum areas. Outlined in the Federal No Child Left Behind legislation, AYP weighs measurable objectives in a range of areas and includes an assessment of proficiency of subgroups including white, black, Hispanic, limited English proficient, students with disabilities and those economically disadvantaged.

Only 38 percent (697 out of 1,839 schools) in Virginia achieved AYP and the state, overall, did not achieve AYP.

While the figures could still see some final tweaking, the results are not likely to change significantly. Neither the school division nor the County's three schools achieved AYP for the third year in a row. (Only four divisions in the state achieved AYP for 2011.) The elementary school, which reached 20 of 29 indicators, is in its second year of improvement. The middle school achieved 22 of 29 objectives, is also in its second year of improvement; and the high school, 25 of 29 indicators, is designated in its first year.

It has been an increasingly difficult goal for schools to achieve and, while No Child Left Behind legislation calls for 100 percent achievement by 2014, this year – for schools and divisions as a whole – a minimum of 86 percent of students must demonstrate proficiency in state tests in reading, 85 percent in math (although reducing the failure rate by at least 10 percent warrants safe harbor status).

The same percentages must also be achieved within the various subgroups as well. In addition, school divisions also have specific performance data, including criteria for graduation achievement.

“The thing that we're focusing more on this year is working to improve student achievement by the subgroup classifications that were listed in the AYP report,” Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Smith noted that the subgroup achievement difference is one of the biggest challenges that any school faces. Principals are beginning to look at subgroup achievement and things that may make a positive impact-changing teaching methodology in some cases, instructional practices. He also cited that textbook review will be underway this year.

They will also aim to provide professional development for staff, specifically as it relates to increasing sub group achievement.

The high school, looking at preliminary Standards of Learning figures presented to the school board in a meeting in June, showed improvement in some areas. (Overall, already high reading SOL results were unchanged-scoring 87 percent again; but math increased from 76 percent to 90 percent and science jumped from 74 to 84 percent. The biggest challenge that remains is in the area of history, where the performance fell from 86 percent to 69 percent-a drop off of 17 percent.)

The high school is currently in a turnaround program (where federal funds are used to foster achievement with the help of Cambridge Education).

“There were some significant increases in the overall scores at the high school and we're very pleased with that,” Dr. Smith said. “It's a result of the team working very, very hard together to bring that about. And…while their numbers overall didn't meet the AYP level, the improvement was significant.”

There are some areas there, he also cites, where the subgroup achievement didn't go up, “but…I think the general impression was that there were some notable improvements over last year at the high school.”

Overall, according to Department of Education figures, Prince Edward as a division passed 21 AYP elements out of 29.

Asked about the biggest surprise across the board, Dr. Smith said he didn't know if there was a surprise. He cited that they conduct benchmark assessments every six weeks in the core curriculum areas in lieu of what was a six weeks test. Those, he cited, are directly tied to the pacing guide and to the SOLs. And the goal is to closely align instruction with what will ultimately be measured on the SOL tests. It's not teaching the test, he cited, it's orienting the instruction so that it leads students to a more positive outcome.

And while benchmarks are not necessarily a predictor to performance, periodic assessments like that give teachers some feedback in a fairly short timeframe of whether they are effectively getting the increase in student learning that's needed. They have the opportunity, using that data, Dr. Smith highlighted, to plan any re-teaching that's necessary or change strategies that apply to their students going forward.

This year, school officials have also extended the school day by 15 minutes. While Dr. Smith noted it may not sound like a lot of time, if you spread it across the day and add it over the course of the year, it's a significant number of hours. The time has been designed into the daily schedule at each school and the principals are all working hard to maximize that learning time, he said.

“It is harder to achieve this as the cutoff score increases and that does add a level of sense of frustration that no matter what someone may do it's not gonna be good enough by next year's standards, but…we know that it's going to go up again for next year and for the following year and that that standard is at such a high level over the next couple of years that it's increasingly difficult for most schools to make,” Dr. Smith said.

Asked what he realistically hoped to see when he looks at the figures next year, Dr. Smith noted: “I hope to see all three schools make AYP. I believe that we have to maintain high expectations and that we need to make plans for providing the resources and the training and the relationship with parents and community it takes to continue to increase student achievement.”

He added, “The goal of all of this is to increase student achievement, that's the only goal.”

Dr. Smith also said he has confidence in the staff to achieve the goals he wants to achieve.

“In any environment as in-school or…outside of school the…reality is the needs of any organization change over time and it's imperative that there be updated information, training, continual goal setting, readjusting of strategies to meet goals. That's a normal part of any successful organization. And that's what's going on here.”