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Hitting all 64 targets, not 62 or 63, is the challenge

By Dr. Judy Grissom

Special to the Post

The joint meeting of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Jan. 8 was the beginning of building a better relationship between the two boards.

I had the opportunity to give a brief overview about our district’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Several people have asked that I share this information with the public in order to build more understanding of a very complex accountability system. Although the No Child Left Behind Federal Act encompasses more than just student accountability, I will only address the section that includes academics.

Under No Child Left Behind, AYP is measured by student performance on state tests. Every state must have some form of testing but the tests vary from state to state. In North Carolina, our AYP is based on performance of students in grades 3-8 on the End-of-Grade reading and math tests; students in grade 10 on their English I, algebra I and 10th grade writing assessment tests; attendance at grades 3-8; and graduation rates.

Within these performance levels, there are subgroups, and each subgroup must meet certain percentages of proficiency on the tests and certain percentages of students must be tested. These percentages or targets are established by the federal government and increase every three years until 2013-2014, when every student in every group is expected to be proficient.

The subgroups that we have in the Rowan-Salisbury School System are: all students, Asian, black, Hispanic, multiracial, white, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient and students with disabilities.

Our district has 64 targets. For a school district to meet AYP, all designated subgroups in the district must meet the AYP targets. If even one group fails to meet the targets, the entire district is designated as not meeting AYP. We cannot meet just 62 or 63, but must meet ALL 64 targets.

Some of the intricacies that make Adequate Yearly Progress even more difficult are:

* Students must be enrolled 140 days in a school for that school to be responsible for that student; however, at the district level the student merely needs to be in the system 140 days to count for AYP. Students who move from school to school may not count at a school because they are not there long enough, but would count in the district. Usually the students who tend to move from school to school are the most at-risk students because of not being at one site long enough to master the curriculum.

* Students can be counted in more than one group. For example: a student could be counted in all students, white, economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities in both attendance and proficiency. Therefore, that one student could count for eight targets — four of which have to do with participation in the tests, and the other four focus on actual performance on the tests.

* A school must have at least 40 students in a group for that group to be counted as a subgroup for the school. At the district level, there must be at least 40 students in a subgroup for that group to count system-wide. Even though a school may not be focusing on a certain subgroup because of numbers, the district is affected. Every school in the district can make AYP and the district could still not make AYP.

Out of the 115 districts in North Carolina, only three districts made AYP, and 112 districts did not make AYP in the most recent AYP results. Of the 112 districts that did not make AYP, 50 districts are on the watch list and 62 districts moved into some type of district improvement status. Of the 62 districts that are in district improvement, 20 districts are in corrective action. Eleven of those districts were selected for assistance teams based on the number of individual schools that are in corrective action (we have two schools). The Rowan-Salisbury School System is one of the districts selected to receive a state assistance team.

Only 18 districts have more targets than our system, and all 18 are in district improvement. Ninety-six districts have fewer targets than our school system.

Making AYP is a true challenge — federal funding has not kept up with the requirements. In addition, some of the specifics of No Child Left Behind continue to change each year, which makes meeting AYP somewhat of a moving target. Math tests in North Carolina were revised and renormed this year, causing much lower scores across the state. Next year reading tests in North Carolina will be revised and renormed, so we can expect to see reading scores drop across the state in a similar manner.

Next year is also the year for the proficiency level for each subgroup to increase. The state will also be adding science testing at grades 5 and 8 as well as biology at the high school, so the number of targets will increase even more. Delayed scores from the tests (math test results were not released until October) may have prevented some schools from accurately placing students in appropriate levels of courses (especially at the high school). This delay has also shortened the window of time that systems have had to examine data and make plans for improvement.

In spite of these challenges, our teachers and our administrators continue to work as hard as they can to provide the best possible instruction for our students. AYP is only one measurement of how a school or school district performs, but it is a measure that we take very seriously.

* * *

Dr. Judy S. Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

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