Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

TOP STORY >>Schools in Cabot still on state list

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Although the Cabot School District has the highest test scores in central Arkansas, three schools have been placed on school improvement following the 2007 Arkansas Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) test taken last spring.

Junior High South and Middle School South are both on year-one school improvement; Middle School North is on year-two school improvement and must provide tutoring to any student who wants it.

MSN was placed on year one last year for math. It met the math standard this year but fell short in reaching the AYP’s goals for literature. Junior High South and MSS both fell short in literature this year; JHS is also on alert status for math.

The Cabot district has 30 days to appeal the designations to the Arkansas Department of Education.

The entire student body took the test, which is mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, but the subpopulation of students with disabilities at the three campuses didn’t reach AYP’s goals, bringing the school-improvement classifications to the district.

Ninety-five percent of a subpopulation must take the same test as the rest of the students and no test modifications are made for those with disabilities. “We’re upset and disappointed about it, but it’s a challenge we’re ready to meet,” Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said Friday of the classifications.

Of the roughly 1,000 special- education students in Cabot, 49 percent receive more than 80 percent of their instruction in the general education classroom.

“When a student improves, we dismiss them from special education classes and put them back in a regular classroom setting. We’re not going to hold better special-education students back to help our scores; we’re going to do what’s best for the student,” Thurman said.

Valerie Stone, the district’s director of special education programs, said the worst part of the classifications is the possible negative perception it creates to those that don’t understand the AYP process.

“People who don’t understand how AYP works and who don’t understand how the data works and don’t really know much about students with disabilities kind of jump to the conclusion that something is wrong with the program we are offering or the instruction is not adequate,” Stone said.

“We are expecting them to go farther each year than their non-disabled peers and we’re expecting them to do so with much less ability; it’s very difficult,” she said.

Stone said special-education administrators have been campaigning both the federal government and the state to recognize that an intermediate assessment-type is needed.

“It’s something we’ve been advocating for since No Child Left Behind was first passed because people who know about students with disabilities recognized immediately that there was going to be a problem there, that we would have that group of kids that would not be able to meet that standard criteria (of classifying a student as having a mild disability or moderate to severe disability only)” Stone said.

She said it was hard for her not to become defensive about the information because she knows how hard the staff and the students worked. “We have kids who sit and cry when they take the assessment because they know it’s important,” Stone said. “We have children throw-up during testing; it’s very difficult,” she said.

Thurman added that as a district in trouble with a subpopulation, they must make sure the teachers don’t get down on themselves. “Our teachers are doing a very good job,” he said.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education’s Web site, school-improvement year- one schools must offer their students the opportunity to attend another school within the district that is not designated as a school improvement school.
Year-two improvement schools must continue to offer the option of attending another school and also provide access to supplemental education services focused on improving student achievement.

If schools reach a year-three improvement classification, they must take corrective action, which includes options ranging from changes in staffing to changes in curriculum.

For schools in school-improvement year four, the ADE will take more aggressive action, which may include options ranging from making changes in the school’s management, making changes in staffing or exercising more day-to-day involvement in implementing the school’s improvement plan.

Students with disabilities include those with autism, deaf-blindness, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury or visual impairment.