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System expects schools to make AYP
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The Effingham County School System projects all schools will be shown to make adequate yearly progress when the recalculations are released in September.

“It’s what we unfortunately seem to live and breathe by,” Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff said, “but we try to make sure that’s not the only thing we focus on because that’s not really what the school system here is about. It’s something that we are judged against, so we have to try to ensure that we do our best job of meeting the standards.”

According to the calculations currently made available by the state, Springfield Elementary did not make AYP; however, CRCT retests are allowed to be included in AYP results.

“If you look at the DOE’s accountability workbook, the confidence interval is a very complicated mathematical formula,” Arnsdorff said. “What we’ve done is we’ve run those figures ourselves. We’ve had it done in our information system’s office, and then we have a math consultant who’s just a whiz at math do it separately to see if they came up with the same answers, and they did. We have a high confidence that they will indeed make it.

“Yet we always have to have a disclaimer that is based on internal calculations. Our folks always do a very good job in their crunching of numbers and data, and that’s what we believe will happen.”

The percentage of students who were required to meet or exceed standards in order for schools to meet AYP was increased this year. There was a change in how much of an increase there was.

“There was a change that substantially helped all schools in Georgia. The state had a bit aggressive timeline for improving mathematics,” Arnsdorff said. “If you followed anything out of Atlanta and (state school) Superintendent (Kathy) Cox’s interest level, she’s been really focusing on improving Georgia’s performance in the area of mathematics.”

The annual measurable objective (AMO) was scheduled to be 66.7 this year. Last year the percentage of students needed to meet standards was 58.3 percent.

Arnsdorff said the state is allowed to ask the U.S. Department of Education for amendments to be made to the accountability workbook, and five amendments were approved this year.

“One of the changes that was approved was changing that aggressive timeline,” Arnsdorff said. “The bar was still raised, but it wasn’t raised as substantially as we were expecting.”

The percentage of students needed to meet standards was changed from 66.7 for this year to 59.5.

“I think all schools can improve over time — we just need to be realistic in the amount of change that’s required in moving all students forward,” Arnsdorff said.

Arnsdorff said some of the amendments helped the local school system while others did not apply. One of the amendments was for schools that would not have made AYP based solely on students with abilities.

“We know that’s one of the subgroups that we’re held accountable for that there’s a greater gap to close, he said. “I will say I think No Child Left Behind has challenged all school districts in Georgia, and I think we’re particularly proud of the improvement that our students with disabilities have made, and that has been directly related to increasing the expectations on students and providing more rigor in our curriculum.”

He said for a while students with disabilities were provided a curriculum based on what was believed to be appropriate.

“Now they are held to the same expectations as all children, so definitely the bar has been raised there,” Arnsdorff said. “We continue to work to see how we can narrow the gap with them.”

He said the second amendment is a technical issue that requires the state to equate QCC based assessments and GPS based assessments for multi year averaging. The third amendment changed the AMO for math for grades three through eight.

The fourth change went to using the dropout rate rather than the graduation rate for alternative high schools.

“That doesn’t apply to us,” Arnsdorff said. “There are very few of those in the state, but there are some.”

He said the final amendment definitely affected the local school system.

“For the first time this year retest scores for summer would be recalculated into AYP for grades three, five and eight,” Arnsdorff said. “That really makes sense in the fact that if you are to provide the option for remediation in the summer — we provide that opportunity for our third fifth and eighth grade students — why shouldn’t the results be indicated in the school system’s final results for that year.”

He said the cooperation of teachers, students and parents helped the students and the district.

“We’re appreciative it’s a cooperative effort in the summer between our teachers who are willing to come to work, focus in on some differentiated instruction to our students’ area of weakness,” Arnsdorff said. “It’s also our partners who are parents and students who are willing to sacrifice their summer and participate in our program. We’re appreciative of that effort, and it’s going to pay off for students in the long run and definitely for us for AYP.”

Arnsdorff said it is unfortunate that the results were released prior to the recalculation from summer retests, but it is required by No Child Left Behind that as soon as the data is received, it must be made public.

He said that is part of the reason Cox is calling for a more uniform calendar, but he also said in order for scores to be received in a timely manner, there will have to be a summer testing window similar to the spring testing period.

He said the bar will continue to move up, and the goal in 2014 is for 100 percent of all subgroups to meet or exceed standards.

Even through it appears all schools will make AYP for the 2008 school year, the system as a whole did not.

“The system made AYP last year, and because of the math portion of the high school graduation test, we did not meet this year” Arnsdorff said. “All the schools have draft school improvement plans in house here at the district level. We’re reviewing those, and we are going probably provide some guidance about how we can begin to focus on some gap closing in that area.”

He said one thing he reminded the principals of was that even if there are students who do not make a subgroup for the school, they are cumulative to the district.

“Every child does matter,” Arnsdorff said. “Our direction to the school improvement plan is to focus on those areas where we need to close the gap more. That’s going to be an area where the high school graduation test — math — that we’ll be trying to focus some additional resources in.”

Arnsdorff said the district has approved additional remedial teachers for the high schools.

“We’re going to be looking at how those programs are used and also the instructional extension funds that are available,” he said.

He said the system has also received a grant for transition retention specialists to be placed in each school.

“They will be monitoring what’s going on with students who may be having some risk factors involved in their academic progress,” Arnsdorff said. “We’re also being able to hire a half time position for each high school that will be an instructional coach to work with teachers and how to better differentiate the instruction to meet the various learning styles of students.

“We have additional resources that we are putting toward this issue, and we continue to try to provide the best quality instruction,” he said. “There’s no substitute, there’s no extra programs that can take the place of providing the best quality instruction in our buildings every day, and that’s what we’re trying to continue to focus on.”