Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Most peninsula schools make the grade as measured by annual progress report

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development released Friday the names of schools across the state that met and did not meet AYP, adequate yearly progress, for the 2010-2011 school year under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Across the state, less than 50 percent of the schools reached the targets, with the Kenai Peninsula School District reflecting a higher percent and the 16 schools of the southern peninsula, from Ninilchik south, scoring even higher overall:

• State of Alaska: 231, or 45.7 percent, of 505 schools met AYP;

• Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, including Connections, the district's homeschool program: 30, or 68.2 percent, of 44 schools met AYP;

• Southern Kenai Peninsula, including Connections: 11, or 68.8 percent, of 16 schools met AYP.

Following are the southern Kenai Peninsula schools that did and did not meet AYP:

• Met AYP: Chapman, Fireweed Academy, Homer High School, Kachemak Selo, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik School, Paul Banks Elementary School ( K-2 school included with West Homer), Razdolna School, Susan B., English School, Voznesenka School, West Homer Elementary School.

• Did not meet AYP: Connections, Homer Flex School, Homer Middle School, McNeil Canyon Elementary School, Nanwalek School, Port Graham School.

"We made incredible gains this year," said Ray Marshall, WHES principal, comparing 2010-2011 test scores to previous years. "I would attribute it to an exceptional staff here, hard-working students and very supportive families that we serve."

Building on what works, Marshall said WHES staff has "tried really, really hard to know when students learn and analyze what's effective in our practice to help kids learn. If you teach the best lesson ever and nobody learned anything, I'd go so far as to say you didn't teach anything."

Since the 2002-2003 school year, testing of students in grades three through 12 have been measured in language arts and math proficiency. That year, the measureable objectives set for schools were 64.03 percent in language arts and 54.86 percent in math. The bar has risen gradually toward a goal of 100 percent to be reached in each of the two subjects by the 2013-2014 school year.

The objectives for 2009-2010 were 77.18 percent for language arts and 66.09 percent for math, with a jump to 82.88 percent for language arts and 74.57 percent for math in 2010-2011.

"I am pleased that in comparison to elsewhere in the country and state, our schools did fairly well," Dr. Steve Atwater wrote in his web-based blog. Of the schools not meeting AYP, he added, "it is ironic, that some of these schools may have improved test results from the previous year, but did not quite clear the higher bar. NCLB also requires schools to report the progress of their subgroups, e.g., students with disabilities, and these groups if large enough, are considered for the AYP calculation. The vast majority of our schools not making AYP did so because of one of the subgroups not meeting the state set percentage of proficiency."

Each school is scored as a whole, as well as by subgroups: African American, Alaska Native and American Indian, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, two or more races, economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and LEP (limited English proficiency). Each of those subgroups are evaluated on participation rates, the number of students tested for a full academic year, the performance in language arts and math and a category for "other indicators."

"In all, there are 31 targets. If schools meet all of these targets, they have made adequate yearly progress, but every few years, the targets increase. In other words, over time the bar for making adequate yearly progress is set higher," Mike Hanley, DOEE commissioner, wrote in his press release announcing the results.

Although it is easy to assume a school is failing because it didn't make AYP, Atwater urged caution before jumping to conclusions.

"Take some time to investigate the series of indicators that are considered for AYP and learn whether the school improves,' he said. "AYP is an important designation; it may not, however, be a defining one."

For Homer Middle School, not meeting AYP was due to math scores in the subgroup "students with disabilities."

"In general, the scores really show us that we made growth and incredible improvement academically," said David Larson, HMS principal.

Specifically, the 2010-2011 results indicate that HMS needs to "focus in on specifically what caused this one sub group to not make enough progress over the past year, to try to investigate the data and see if there's something specifically that we have to enhance in our instruction. ... Our goal is to make sure that in 130-some student days from now, those kids will have received the instruction they need to make proficiency," said Larson.

At McNeil Canyon Elementary School it also was one sub group that kept the school from making AYP: economically disadvantaged students' language arts score.

"If we'd had one more student proficient in that particular group, we'd have not been below A YP," said Pete Swanson, McNeil principal. "The issue with any school is that from year to year, depending on population, you could end up with kids you haven't had the opportunity to have taught in early years and they may or may not be up to speed as far as standards. It also points out to us areas that we need to continue to set as goal areas. We're looking very closely at writing proficiency. That part of the testing data shows a relative weakness for us."

Swanson also had tips for families.

"This is a call to pay attention to when testing is, that students are here and taking the test. That's what this is based on, a three-day window in April that students either show their proficiency or don't, that students are rested, fed and all those other wonderful things that make brains work well," said Swanson.

One level that kept some schools from making AYP was graduation rates.

Nanwalek was one such school. Even though the school had 11 high school graduates, "it was actually supposed to have more than 11, so the percentage went down and it fell below 85 percent, so it didn't meet AYP," said Sean Dusek, KPBSD assistant superintendent. "That's the troubling part of this law. Here's a school with more than they've ever had and yet they didn't make (the target)."

With the 2013-2014 goal of 100 percent approaching, Dusek said KPBSD is "trying to decipher from the district level what's happening, what's going on."

"We know the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the Number 1 indicator and the Number 1 way to improve student achievement," said Dusek. "We are committed to helping all of our teachers and administrators get better at their craft. If we do that well, we'll see even better results and, ultimately, our kids will be much better prepared for their future."

Dusek's advice for families is to ask questions about individual student results and what families can do to support the school as it helps each child improve.

"But, again, there is no program, nothing I can tell that's the silver bullet," said Dusek. "It all boils down to hard work. I believe you see that every day from our staff. They're willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard. They wouldn't be in our district if the didn't believe every single kid could learn."

For more information about AYP and individual school worksheets, see www.eed.state.ak.us/DOE_Rolodex/AYP/2011/search.cfm.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.