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4 Sequim schools fail to make 'adequate' progress
In Washington, AYP serves primarily as a measure of year-to-year student achievement in reading and mathematics. When a school falls short of the established goals for improvement, it fails to "make AYP." When one or more schools in a district fails to make adequate yearly progress, the district also fails to make AYP.
This year Greywolf Elementary met the standard, while Helen Haller Elementary, Sequim Middle School, Sequim High and Sequim Community School fell short.
Vince Riccobene, director of assessment and instruction, and Sequim District Superintendent Bill Bentley discuss the results of the recent district “report card.” Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig
Those four schools have a lot of company across Washington. Preliminary figures show that 968 of Washington's 2,125 schools failed to make AYP. Some 212 of Washington's 295 school districts also failed to make AYP.
Interpreting the results
Does that mean these schools and these districts are failing to teach?
Vince Riccobene, director of assessment and instruction for the Sequim School District, is quick to note that "AYP doesn't necessarily tell the story of a school."
"On other tests, we tend to fall above the state," said Sequim District Superintendent Bill Bentley.
No Child Left Behind has been controversial since its passage. Bentley recently described the law, saying it requires states to ensure a certain percentage of students meet state-established standards for proficiency in math and reading.
"The bar is always moving up," he said. "That's why higher percentages (of schools) aren't meeting AYP."
Bentley noted "the legislation is written so that every school and every district will eventually fail.
"That's like asking a doctor to ensure 100 percent of his patients are healthy."
State Superintendent Randy Dorn is more specific, saying, "By 2014, we will have every school in the state not making AYP. That's completely unrealistic."
"There are a myriad of complexities," Bentley said, noting the government doesn't just look at student bodies as a whole but rather as disaggregated "cells." Students are categorized by ethnicity, special education status, income and more.
"If any one of these cells doesn't make it, the school fails to make it," Bentley said.
Breaking down the statistics
Riccobene said Sequim has 61 different cells. The recent report card shows the district met the standards for 53 cells and failed to meet standards on the other eight.
The state revised some of its tests this year, adding another layer of uncertainty to the process. All tests now are taken in one session and a new online element was added for middle school students.
The mathematics standards are the toughest to meet, and this year the task was made more difficult by the introduction of new math learning standards. A spokesman for Dorn described the changes, saying the new "math test essentially creates a new math benchmark, or starting point, for grades 3-8 math. The knowledge and skills assessed on the math assessment are more challenging in grades 3-5 and maintain about the same level of rigor in grades 6-8 to better prepare students for higher-level math."
Parents can choose to have their students opt out of the statewide tests. "We don't encourage it, but we have a number who do," Bentley said. Rather than being removed from the statistical results, the students who opt out are counted as having scored zero on each of the missed tests.
Surveying the benefits
Both Bentley and Riccobene were quick to say that despite its flaws, the AYP program does provide certain benefits.
"It got us to look at segments we wouldn't have before," Riccobene said. "The devil is only in the details - and we're living with the details."
"No Child Left Behind had 1,000 pages," Bentley noted. "Everyone quickly realized it has a lot of flaws. But it's important to the students and it's important to the community, so it's important to us."
Bentley says he and his staff remain committed to using data to improve instruction at Sequim schools, and despite its limited value, they will pore over the new data to glean the useful facts.
Unfortunately, he said, the AYP program compares apples to oranges by comparing this year's third-grade class with last year's. It provides no information on how the individual student is progressing.
"It can be difficult to use it for diagnostic purposes," Bentley said.
The district has instituted its own testing program to regularly gauge the progress of individual students. This includes determining areas where each student is excelling and where each needs more work.
District and school personnel use the results of the state and school tests to create a prescriptive program that is presented each year to the school board.
What happens next
Schools and districts that don't meet AYP goals for two consecutive years move into "improvement" status. Schools that receive federal Title I funds face an escalating series of consequences each year they do not make AYP.
Only two schools in Sequim District - Greywolf and Haller - qualify for Title I funds, which are based on the financial circumstances of the students.
Despite making AYP this year, Greywolf remains in "improvement." Haller didn't make AYP but isn't in improvement.
Sequim High and Sequim Community School are both in Step 2, and Sequim Middle School is in Step 3. Because none of these three schools receive Title I funds, they are largely insulated from the consequences that can attach to these steps. Riccobene says they don't ignore the status or the changes they call for.
"They are good suggestions," he said.
Read related story: What happens if ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ is not met?
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.