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Paynesville Press -September 1, 2004

District does not make Adequate Yearly Progress

By Michael Jacobson

Like 150 school districts in the state, the Paynesville Area School District did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, as defined for No Child Left Behind, based on its 2003 test results.

In all, 472 schools in Minnesota, and over 40 percent of school districts (150 of 342) were listed as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), in results released last week by Governor Tim Pawlenty and education commissioner Alice Seagren at the state fair.

avp chart While the elementary school, middle school, and high school all made AYP, the district as a whole did not, on account of its proficiency in reading and math testing for special education students.

The explanation for this somewhat confusing result - that all three schools make AYP but the district as a whole does not -╩is that the special education subcategory only is judged if it contains 40 or more students. Neither the elementary, middle, or high school has that many students in special education, so they are not judged in special education in making AYP. But the district as a whole has 40 or more special education students, so it is judged in that subcategory.

That all three schools made AYP - earning at least three stars from the state's rating system - is actually good news. In fact, the high school earned five stars in reading (three for meeting the basic accountability standards plus an extra star for having less than 10 percent test at the lowest levels on the MCAs and another star for outperforming districts with a similar number of students who receive free or reduced price lunches (a measure of economic status). The high school received four stars in math, and the middle school received four stars in reading. "When you see a four-star school, you should be jumping up and down for joy," said Seagren, according to the Star Tribune. "When you have a five-star school, you have a super-duper school." And the district as a whole met most of the requirements for AYP (37 in all), missing in just two categories.

Pawlenty told parents not to "freak out" if their school is on the list of not making adequate yearly progress. It does not mean a school is underperforming or failing, he said at the state fair, according to the Star Tribune. It just means a certain group of students is not making adequate progress.

In Paynesville's case, their target for 2004 was to have 61 percent of special education students show proficiency in reading on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assess-ments (the tests for third, fifth, seventh, tenth, and 11th graders that was used to judge AYP status). Instead, only 46 percent showed proficiency in the testing.

In mathematics, Paynesville's target was to have 60 percent of students test at proficient levels, but only 47 percent did.

The results were not a surprise for administration, said superintendent Todd Burlingame and elementary principal Deb Gillman, who also serves as the district's testing coordinator. In examining special education test results in previous years, they saw that not enough of these students were testing at proficient levels to make AYP if this subcategory was counted.

In fact, including the nine school districts surrounding Paynesville, six out of ten did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, most on account of special education. Albany and Litchfield, like Paynes-ville, did not show enough proficiency in special education testing in both math and reading, while Rocori and Sauk Centre lacked proficiency in just special education reading. Melrose met special education proficiency, though with an alternate target, but lacked proficiency in reading in other subcategories (among Hispanics and among students with limited English).

Of the four surrounding school districts that made AYP -╩ACGC, BBE, EV-W, and NL-S -╩only New London-Spicer showed reading and math proficiency among special education students, with the other three districts not counting that subcategory of students since they had fewer than 40.

"Schools that did not make progress only for special education students are in a tough spot," said Seagren. "On one hand, I believe the federal government should allow more leeway for our most profoundly disabled students -╩it only makes common sense. But at the same time, I know parents demand the same high expectations for all students, regardless of the subgroup they happen to fall into."

While realizing that Paynesville can improve its proficiency levels among special education students, Burlingame and Gillman said that the federal law also needs to be tweaked. Ultimately, by 2013, school districts will need to have all student subcategories testing at 99 percent proficiency. Or that's at least how it stands now, because schools can only exempt one percent of students from testing.

That doesn't take into consideration the type or severity of special needs cases, Gillman noted. Students with learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence, so with the proper learning strategies they should be able to become proficient. Likewise, students with an emotion or behavior disorder (EBD) generally test well with the right accomodations, away from other students, etc.

But, students with a developmentally cognitive delay have below average intelligence, and for these students it may be unrealistic to raise their proficiency to grade level, according to Gillman.

If a school district has more than one percent of these severe cases, they will have trouble meeting proficiency targets and making AYP, Gillman said.

Without changes to the formula for assessing Adequate Yearly Progress, "every school district in the state is going to be on that list," said Burlingame.

The irony for Paynesville, agreed Burlingame and Gillman, is that the district has a great special education staff and a great reputation in special education, which leads the district to have more special education students, including some who choose to open enroll here.

"We've got a great special ed program," said Burlingame. "I hope (the teachers) don't view this as them not doing their jobs because they're doing a great job." There are no immediate consequence of not making Adequate Yearly Progress, except the bad press, Gillman said. Gillman called not making AYP "a wake-up call," which the district is already pursuing, looking at ways to improve its proficiency among special education students. The district already started by reviewing its criteria for identifying special education students to make sure that it wasn't overidentifying kids. Improving proficiency will take effort by both special education teachers and classroom teachers (since most special education students are mainstreamed), by the West Central Education District, and by administration, according to Burlingame. "Everybody is going to have to pull together as a team to get these kids to where they need to be," he said. But if a district continues to not make AYP then the consequences get steeper. In the second year, the district has to offer school choice and provide transportation. In the third year, they must fund supplemental education services for students. And eventually corrective action could include reworking curriculum, replacing school staff relevant to the AYP failures, contracting for management of the school, or reopening as a charter school.

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