Official: Clock ticking to improve schools

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Holly Fesperman Lee

Salisbury Post

The Rowan-Salisbury School System has until the end of the school year to improve outcomes in the No Child Left Behind federal accountability program.

While last school year’s Adequate Yearly Progress results were dismal, improving is not an impossible task, according to a N.C. Department of Public Instruction official.

“I think it’s doable,” said Dr. Belinda Black, coordinator of No Child Left Behind in the office of curriculum and school reform.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System is one of 20 districts that have moved into corrective action, or year three of district improvement.

While Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said the district is among the bottom 11 in the state, Black said the state typically doesn’t rank districts from first to last. Even though the state won’t assign a number ranking, Black said the 20 districts in corrective action were the worst-performing in the state.

Eleven of these 20 districts will receive a state assistance team to help investigation solutions to problems. Rowan-Salisbury is among the 11 and will receive a team in January.

Cabarrus County is also in corrective action, but won’t receive the state assistance team.

Black said the districts receiving teams have the greatest needs. Districts were chosen to receive teams based on the number of Title I schools that are in year three of school improvement.

Rowan-Salisbury has 12.5 percent of its Title I schools entering year three of school improvement.

Black said Cabarrus County only has two Title I schools and the system hasn’t reached year three of improvement.

While a small number of districts in the state are in corrective action, Black said, “You also need to keep in mind that, ultimately, many, many districts will be moving into district improvement. If they don’t come out they’ll move into corrective action.”

If Rowan-Salisbury doesn’t make AYP again this school year, “There will be some type of sanction, absolutely. It probably will be a more stringent sanction of some sort,” Black said.

Harsher sanctions could include deferring funds, replacing the superintendent and other school personnel, replacing the school board and “ultimately the state could step in. There’s no precedent for that yet. It is conceivable,” she said.

In order to avoid tougher sanctions next year, Rowan-Salisbury needs to make all targets in any one of the three grade spans.

In previous years, districts have been required to meet all targets.

Rowan-Salisbury had 64 targets this past school year and met 48. In order to improve, the system won’t need to make all 64, but it will need to make all targets in either grades 3-5, 6-8 or grade 10.

School districts that made AYP this past school year were:

* Tyrrell County with all 22 targets met,

* Washington County with all 34 targets met and,

* Watauga County with all 38 targets met.

Among the targets missed by the Rowan-Salisbury system, Black said two areas jumped out immediately.

“In your middle grades, you missed math targets in your all-students subgroup,” she said.

Rowan-Salisbury also missed testing participation targets for Hispanic and Limited English Proficient students at the high school level.

The system is required to test 95 percent of students in each subgroup. If that percentage isn’t met, the system misses the testing participation target for that subgroup.

“If you can get those kids in there to get them tested, then that’s a target you could meet,” Black said.

Other subgroups met targets under the safe harbor or confidence interval conditions.

If AYP isn’t met, but a subgroup has reduced the number of level 1 or level 2 scores by at least 10 percent over the previous year, they can be given safe harbor and make AYP.

A certain percentage of students in each subgroup must score proficiently on tests for the group to make AYP. If the percentage doesn’t quite meet the requirement but is very close, the group can be given a confidence interval and make AYP.

Working with at-risk students is extremely important because they count in several subgroups, Black said.

Hispanic children are counted with their ethnic group and also may be counted as Limited English Proficient. Basically, one child may get counted three or four times depending on the situation.

According to Black, a bill has been sponsored by the National School Board Association that would allow students counted in several subgroups to count as a fraction of a student in each subgroup rather than a whole student in each.

Black said a child counted in three subgroups would count as one-third of a student in each so districts won’t take such a large hit.

The state assistance team that will visit in January will look for ways to get the most improvement in the shortest amount of time.

“The corrective-action teams are designed to be collaborative. This is in no way to be construed as a punitive measure,” Black said.

The state team will work with a team at the district level to look at data and curriculum.

Grissom said at Monday’s board meeting that the Department of Public Instruction will recommend the district align with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

If approved by the state board of education, students should find that classrooms are more focused on instruction, Black said.

For teachers, Black said the sanction may mean teachers will need to focus more on reading for the lower grades.

If proficiency is taken care of at a young age, the district won’t miss as many targets in the long run, she said.

Even though Grissom just arrived last April, she won’t be given any sort of a grace period to enact change.

By law, districts only have one year to improve — one of the criticisms of the No Child Left Behind program, according to Black.

Black said at the state level the hope was that the team would go in and help establish a strong focus by the end of the year.

State assistance team members are typically retired educators or administrators.

State assistance teams began when the No Child Left Behind program started. Hoke County was one of the first districts to receive a team.

Black said the state assistance team would be a positive experience and a lot of the team’s success depended on buy-in from other school officials.

“Quite frankly, I’ve heard good things about your superintendent. If you’ve got folks that want to make it better, that will happen. The only handicap is that you’ve got a short time to do it,” Black said.

Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or