DHS hoping rewards will improve test scores
De Soto High School is instituting a series of student rewards and consequences as a way of improving performance on all-important state assessment tests.
The high school had relatively good success on the state assessments taken last year. The school's students made the state's standard of excellence for reading for the second-straight year and made annual yearly progress for math. Grades in the school's math classes have been getting better and there were no failing grades issued in the first semester.
Despite those positive signs, De Soto High School Principal Dave Morford knows the school is challenged to do more. The need starts with math.
The school's performance on last year's assessment test, which had 48.4 percent of sophomores testing at or above proficiency, won't be good enough to make annual yearly progress next year in math.
"We're not where we want to be," Morford said. "Although we make AYP, we met it by the grace of God."
The federal No Child Left Behind Act mandates more and more students test at proficient levels on state assessments with the goal that all students reach that level of attainment by 2014.
Reading would have a bit more breathing room with 74.5 percent of DHS students testing at proficient or better. But there, too, the bar keeps getting set higher. And the students' scores, which were good enough for a standard of excellence this year, would fail to meet annual yearly progress in two years.
"That's only two points above AYP," Morford said of this year's average. "That can be the difference in a class."
To address the need, Morford sought and received the school board's blessing to institute a series of rewards and consequences to assure the school's students give the test their best.
In the past, assessment test were given to sophomores, but now schools are allowed to give the test when students best have the "opportunity to learn," Morford said. That means if a student takes geometry as a junior, the student will take the math as a junior, he said.
In addition, the school has the opportunity to test students failing to score at a proficient level again the next year, Morford said.The consequences of failing to meet AYP for multiple years starts with allowing its students to transfer to other schools in the district with the district bearing the transportation cost and proceeds to the virtual handing over of the school's administration to a private management company.
Those are draconian measures the district and De Soto High School officials intend to avoid. One big step toward that goal is to ensure students are motivated to do their best on assessment tests that aren't reflected on their grades.
Morford said the district's staff looked for ways to bring out the students' best. But from interviews with students, it was found that like adults in a corporate world free time was a potential motivator, he said.
"If a student meets standard, we'll have some kind of excused absence for them," Morford said, explaining the reward system would be cumulative with those students scoring highest on tests eligible for all rewards offered.
The plan would allow those scoring at an exemplary level in math or reading to skip the final in that subject. Students exceeding standards would be excused from two seminars and those meeting standard would earn one excused absence.
A final reward students 10 percentage points to apply those classes not part of the school's non-college preparation or advanced placement curriculum with a limit of 5 percentage points in each class. That would be available for students approaching standards.
As this year's assessment tests approach -- the reading test will be given in a window from late February to mid-March with the math tests to follow -- targeted students to be retested after scoring at less than proficient last year will be pulled from non-academic classes, such as physical education, for extra work in algebra/geometry essentials and reading, Morford said.
Starting next year, those students would be placed in classes teaching essential skills in reading and math. The class would not count toward graduation, and students would have to earn their way out and back into graduation-track classes to get a diploma, Morford said.
But there would be ample ways to do so, Morford said, starting with scoring on the proficient level on a second assessment test, or showing a benchmark improvement on it or similar tests the school administers.
The math and reading essentials classes will include students who will never take the AYP assessment tests again. Morford said the demand those students study the basics offered in the classes demonstrated the school's commitment to the ideal of no child left behind even though the students' improvement would not count toward AYP.
"That's our belief, and that's why we've created this," he said. "We want to make sure they have the best product when they graduate.
"If we just give up after their junior year, are we doing the best service for them?"
Morford said the school's staff would introduce the reward system to students in the coming weeks.