Archive for Thursday, December 21, 2006

Starside principal says no repeat of AYP

December 21, 2006

Although Starside Elementary School failed to meet adequate yearly progress on assessment scores released earlier this year, the district's teachers and administrators don't doubt the quality of education offered at the school.

Lexington Trails Middle School Principal Mark Schmidt, whose students come from both Starside and Mize elementary schools, say middle school success is dependent on elementary school success. This year, Lexington Trails achieved its AYP and the state standard of excellence in both reading and math.

"A lot of our success is built on the positive things at Starside Elementary and Mize," he said. "Unfortunately, Starside didn't meet the mark set by AYP and the standard of excellence, but I can tell you the kids that come from Starside are highly skilled by the time they enter our programs. The kids are coming in from both programs with many skills."

De Soto High School also achieved the reading standard of excellence when this year's seniors were tested.

Starside is a Title I school, which means it receives federal funding for its reading, literacy and many other programs to help economically disadvantaged children. This year, the school achieved AYP in all but a subgroup of economically disadvantaged students.

There are several consequences Starside could face if the school doesn't obtain AYP. If a school fails to make AYP for two years in a row, it is placed "on improvement." After two years of being "on improvement," schools face several sanctions, such as giving parents the option of sending children to other schools in the district with the district picking up the cost of transportation.

Principal Paula Hill said Starside teachers and staff want to make sure those sanctions don't happen.

"We don't plan on being there next year," she said.

Hill said there were several reasons the school didn't make AYP this year. The state tested more students than ever before and the test was entirely new from previous years. When testing began for AYP under federal No Child Left Behind legislation, only one or two grade levels from each school took the state assessments. Last year, all students in third though eighth grades took the test.

"We had every group actually meet AYP with the exception of free-and-reduced lunch," Hill said. "That group previously met AYP. This year there were 96 kids in the group. It became much larger, which gives more opportunity for more students to fall behind."

Educators can track how students fell behind through indicators that represent a particular learning item. This year, the test indicators were new since many new groups of students took the tests.

"We've made sure we're going back and looking at the curriculum, and we're touching on those indicators," Hill said.

She said students from economically disadvantaged families have proven to be challenges when they enter school. Research shows, Hill said, that students from those families don't have the same vocabulary or the same experiences. They also haven't been able to attend preschool, Hill said, either because their parents couldn't afford it or because preschool wasn't available.

De Soto schools currently have 24 slots in the at-risk preschool program.

"I know there's a lot more than 24 students who need it," Hill said. "I have 80 some coming in."

Starside students are tested through Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Teachers give DIBELS to all kindergartners in the fall.

"We find about a third of those kids coming in have some of those basic skills," Hill said. "When we compare that to other students in the district, we find we're much lower."

Hill said Starside also has a high number of students learning to speak English for the first time.

Because of its Title I funding, Starside already has programs in place to help students meet reading goals. There are four reading specialists, a schoolwide reading program, the Sparkle tutoring groups and a family reading night, scheduled for Jan. 25 this year.

This year, the school also expects to get test results back much earlier. Last year the test results were delayed about seven months while the state worked to address all the new subgroups. The earlier results will allow the district to more quickly apply test results in the classroom.

"We're also making sure our curriculum is really tied to the testing," Hill said. "We're making sure that teachers are getting through the pieces and parts of the curriculum they need to before students are tested."

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