Summit Schools don’t measure up against federal yardstick
Ryan Summerlin November 11, 2004
SUMMIT COUNTY – President George W. Bush’s re-election dashed the hopes of many educators who were crossing their fingers for big changes in federal education policy – namely the onerous accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act.Now school districts around the country, including Summit’s, are grappling with how to meet academic goals many feel are unattainable as they examine the latest data on whether they made the grade in the eyes of Bush’s plan.”We are supportive of accountability,” said Summit School Board member Christine Scanlan. “I think standards are a good thing, but it’s a bit demoralizing to work toward a goal I don’t think we can reach. There’s some serious reform needed for this to have any meaning.” Summit School District counts itself among 37 percent of Colorado school districts that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).The verdict is based on 2004 standardized test scores in reading and math. The Colorado Department of Education released the information last week.This is the second consecutive year Summit Schools did not make AYP. Consequently, the district has received NCLB’s scarlet letter: “School Improvement” status.This requires the district to reshuffle some of its federal funding and develop school improvement plans for each school that missed the mark. The district must also notify each family it serves that it did not make AYP.School size and diversity impact AYPA Colorado district’s AYP status can say more about its size and demographics than the quality of education in its classrooms.”Any district beyond a certain size that has a lot of diversity will likely not make AYP,” said Jana Caldwell of the Colorado Association of School Executives. “Because of the structure of the law, in measuring every subgroup, some districts may make all but two or five of maybe 150 targets, and they get the failing grade when, clearly, they’re doing an excellent job with the kids.”Among Colorado’s 23 largest school districts (more than 6,000 students), including the highly regarded Cherry Creek and Jefferson County School Districts – not one made AYP in 2004, the Colorado Department of Education reported.Among medium-sized districts (1,201-6,000 students), including Summit Schools, only 23 percent crested the AYP challengeIn contrast, 98 percent of Colorado districts with less than 300 students hit the mark.”You have to look at the makeup of the district,” Caldwell said. “If it’s pretty homogeneous – no large groups of poorer kids, not a lot of diversity – there’s a greater likelihood of making AYP.”Many large- and medium-sized school districts in Colorado, including Summit County, face the challenge of educating a growing influx of students who speak little or no English. Such students are required to take CSAP tests after three years in the district, even though most students require five to seven years to reach fluency in English, according to Summit’s assistant superintendent Peg Kastberg.In Summit Schools, some students will take the test after being in the district less than the required three years, because the data is helpful to teachers and administrators.Adding to the challenge, many English Language Learners travel back to their native countries for months or years at a time and then return to the school district, leaving educators to wonder how to achieve proficiency without consistent instruction.Last fall, Summit School District enrolled 489 English Language Learners. Every school district in the state that made AYP in 2004 registered fewer than 400 English Language Learners in its classrooms last year.And the English Language Learner and Hispanic subgroups were the ones that didn’t make AYP in local schools.The district missed its targets for Hispanic reading at Summit Middle School, Hispanic reading at Summit High School and the Hispanic high school graduation rate.Summit students in all subgroups at the elementary level met AYP targets.AYP consequencesNot making AYP for 2004 requires Summit Schools to reallocate some of the funding it receives from the federal government. District officials have already taken the requisite $18,000 (10 percent if its “Title I” funds) from elementary schools to bolster staff training at the high school and middle school.If the schools do not make AYP again next year, the district will be subject to further requirements aimed at getting them up to AYP standards.”They’re taking away some of our autonomy around how we spend our money,” superintendent Millie Hamner said.On the other hand, if the district makes AYP for two consecutive years, it will be removed from “improvement” status. But that will be no easy task, according to Kastberg, since the AYP targets become more challenging every year as they move toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency in all subgroups by 2013.”Unfortunately, you’re going to see a jump across the board (in percentages of students that must demonstrate proficiency). And there are some concerns for next year, especially among our ELL students and our special ed students,” Kastberg said.Nonetheless, district officials don’t discount AYP as a source of useful information to help steer instruction and resources.”The right thing for us to do today is to look at these scores and say, ‘Where have we made improvement? Is our emphasis in the right place? Look at what we’re doing this year and next year, and does this road map put us in the right direction?'” said board member Stuart Adams.And the district will await next year’s scores to see if new initiatives – the Newcomer Center for intensive English language instruction, a new elementary literacy program and the Twilight Alternative Education program to curb drop-out rates – make an impact.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.