Low-income subset fails to meet required standard
More than 80 percent of students in De Soto USD 232 schools tested "at standard" for last year's assessment tests in reading and math.
However, the district as a whole failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP under the federal "No Child Left Behind" law. The law has five categories of achievement -- "at standard" being the mid-level category -- although the criteria almost every year for "at standard" schools across the nation are required to have 100 percent of students meet that level by the year 2014.
De Soto schools did not make AYP this year because two subgroups -- students from low-income families at Starside Elementary School and students with disabilities at Monticello Trails Middle School -- did not make the AYP goal in reading. All other subcategories of De Soto students scored well above the "at standard" level.
Bret Church, director of learning services for the district, said teachers and administrators were pleased that 82.6 percent of students throughout the district achieved AYP in math, which beats the state requirement by 36 percent.
"In our district, we're very happy with our results," Church said. "However we are very aware of the two subgroups that didn't make it, and of each individual student who did not make AYP."
For reading, students throughout the district scored 85.5 "at standard," which is higher than the math scores. It is also higher than the state's target of 58 percent. The Starside category that did not make AYP this year has 96 students and 51 percent scored "at standard."
Church said the district would look at individual scores, whether they achieved AYP or not, and work closely with each one. He said that at Starside -- a Title I school with four master's level reading specialists -- some of the students who did not achieve AYP fell within the category of students learning English for the first time. Starside's ELL students, however, did achieve this year's standard.
"It is to be expected in some cases that students whose language is not English or whose first language is not English may take a little more time to get to a proficient level on an English reading test," he said.
The Shawnee Mission district had the same issue with English Language Learners, or ELL students, not making AYP this year.
Betsy Degen, Shawnee Mission's director of curriculum and instruction, said that although research shows it takes 5 to 7 years for an ELL student to become proficient in their new language, the state assessment requires students to test "at standard" in just one.
"It really bothers me," Degen said. "I feel very strongly that it's an unfair way to measure student progress."
This year's scores were also changed from previous years because more students were tested. In prior years, state assessment tests were administered to a few grade levels. Now, tests are administered to third- through eighth-grade and tenth- and eleventh-grade students. Under the federal law, schools must raise the percentage of students "at standard" each year, however this year the state gave schools an exception because of a change in the number of students tested.
Starside principal Paula Hill said several programs at Starside are already in place to help students succeed. As a Title I school, Starside receives special federal funding to help students. Also, a schoolwide reading program sets a goal for the entire school as a whole to read one million minutes this year.
Each year the school kicks off this reading program with a Family Read Night so parents can understand the importance of reading to their children at home.
"Sparkle" is an after-school tutoring session at Starside for students who need help in both reading and math. The school uses a guided reading program, which has been proven through research to teach effective reading skills.
This year, reading specialist Tana Priddy received a grant from the Sprint Foundation to give books to kindergarten, first- and second-grade students to take home, in hopes that students will begin at-home libraries.
Hill said AYP status is taken very seriously at Starside.
"At this point, it just means we know that a group of students are not succeeding in that area," she said. "We are the only Title I school in the district and if we would happen not to make it again next year, we would be on improvement."