Making the grade: school grapples with AYP
Hermon Hutchens faces an old foe in test scores
Like more than half the schools statewide, Hermon Hutchens Elementary School did not make AYP – adequate yearly progress – under the strict and ever-rising testing requirements of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind act. And like many school’s, the cause for this lack of success occurred when a lower-than-needed number of students with disabilities passed the language arts testing.
Valdez High School and Gilson Jr. High both passed AYP, but Valdez City School District as a whole did not make AYP due to the special needs students’ lower test scores from Hermon Hutchens.
This same problem has caused Hermon Hutchens to not meet the criteria for AYP in years’ past. The year before, the school provided a teacher to work exclusively with students with disabilities to help them achieve educational goals and the school met AYP criteria. The teacher was reassigned to a regular class and struggling students did not improve test scores enough to pass AYP when last year’s testing was released for this year.
Some school officials say the benchmarks required for AYP are not only unrealistic – it says that by the 2013/14 school year 100 percent of all students in the US will be proficient in the three Rs and science – but the structure of the mandate is a numbers game.
During the August 22, school board meeting, Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, pointed out that if Hermon Hutchens had five less students categorized as disabled, as a group they would not have been counted statistically and the school would have passed AYP.
“The only school that has to report these students is the elementary,” Ruth Knight, the districts test coordinator, said.
Valdez Star photo
District test coordinator Ruth Knight explains some of the statistical quirks innate to AYP.
This is because if a category of students are less than 25 in number, that group is not counted statistically.
Valdez board members and educators say they are wary of manipulating student categories. Educators and officials worry actual education could get trumped by teaching students to pass tests only, while the board grapples with consequences of short-term statistical solutions such as moving sixth grade students to a middle school to lessen the elementary school’s number of disabled students.
As a short-term solution, Jensen suggested hiring a part-time, temporary teacher to work with kids testing below grade-level as was done two years ago, which resulted in all student group’s passing AYP requirements.
“It’s a numbers game,” Jensen said, “We don’t want to play the game just to make it.”