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School board, superintendent push back on AYP findings

At pre-meeting worksession, Gelbrich calls measurement 'discouraging'

Posted: August 15, 2012 - 12:04am

Members of the Juneau School District Board of Education and school district officials pointed out improvement among many grade levels on one testing metric while criticizing Adequate Yearly Progress standards at a worksession before the board’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said that AYP, a measurement mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind program that requires schools to meet statewide standards in 40 categories in order to pass, is an unfair assessment of schools’ progress.

Although the JSD at large met targets in 94 percent of categories in the 2011-12 school year — including categories in which there is insufficient data, namely testing proficiency for populations of 25 or fewer students, which are counted as meets — the district is not considered to have met AYP overall.

“It is rare to find such a measurement come to such a conclusion in any other aspect of our lives,” Gelbrich said.

Gelbrich also touted improvement at Riverbend Elementary School in the 2011-12 school year from the previous year.

“We’ve done some literacy work with Riverbend staff and other staff,” said Gelbrich. “There’s an upward trend there. It’s just a huge reason to celebrate there at Riverbend. But they didn’t meet.”

Phil Loseby, the district’s assessment coordinator, said Riverbend failed to meet AYP as a school this year because it was just one student short of meeting the math proficiency target for economically disadvantaged students.

Board member Barbara Thurston said she does not think AYP should be used to distinguish “good” schools from others. She noted that Johnson Youth Center, one of the three out of 14 district schools to meet AYP in all categories, had such a small student population last year that it met AYP simply by virtue of at least one of its three students participating in testing, as well as meeting attendance targets as all other eligible district schools did.

“I think it’s important that we not use this to say, ‘Well, such-and-such school is better,’” said Thurston.

Gelbrich pointed to Measures of Academic Progress testing results as an encouraging indicator for the school district.

“Using the MAP assessment, which is more linked to national standards, our kids are doing better,” Gelbrich said. “There’s lots of reasons to celebrate there.”

Only two out of the grades tested – kindergarten through tenth grade – exhibited a decrease in the 2011-12 school year from the same grades’ showing in the 2010-11 school year on the MAP reading assessment. First grade saw a slip from 54 percent at “grade level” to 50 percent, while seventh grade fell just one point, from 70 percent to 69 percent.

Eight of the grades saw improvements according to the same metric. The most dramatic jump was in second grade, which went from 47 percent to 59 percent. Third, sixth and eighth grade all saw eight-point jumps, with eighth grade notching the best total performance at 77 percent of “grade level.”

Only fifth grade declined from its 2010-11 performance on the MAP language usage assessment, dropping from 68 percent to 66 percent.

Tenth grade saw a particularly large improvement, shooting up from 46 percent to 73 percent. Second grade improved from 45 percent to 64 percent. Once again, eighth grade performed the best overall, with 86 percent at grade level – up from 72 percent the previous year.

The MAP math assessment trendlines were somewhat more ambiguous, as four out of the 11 grades measured exhibited drops. Most of these were slight, with the largest drop in first grade, from 75 percent – in a two-way tie for the best overall performance on that metric in the 2010-11 school year – to 64 percent.

Some other grades saw big gains, including an 18-point leap in second grade from 41 percent to 59 percent. Eighth grade completed its sweep of top numbers in all three subjects, hitting 77 percent of grade level.

Loseby said after the meeting that the MAP assessment, which is not used by most of Alaska’s school districts, is actually a stricter standard than the Standards Based Assessment used for AYP.

“My expectation is that if we’re doing this well on the MAP, we should be able to easily nail the SBA,” Loseby said.

During the meeting, retiring school board member Mark Choate suggested the AYP results should not be too readily dismissed. He noted that a lower percentage of schools in Juneau met AYP than did statewide – 21.4 percent to 46.5 percent.

“For an urban school district with a highly educated population, I thought, well, somebody is doing a better job than we are,” said Choate.

Thurston again brought up the issue of insufficient data for small testing populations resulting in an automatic AYP meet, replying, “It may be that they’re being evaluated on almost nothing and passing.”

Choate said he is uncomfortable with test results that appear to reflect poorly on staff being dismissed out of hand.

“It always makes me nervous when we decide that we don’t like the tests,” Choate said. “You’ve got to use some criteria to measure.”

The school board has an upcoming retreat scheduled for Aug. 28. Gelbrich suggested it would be appropriate to use that time to consider the district’s standing.

“One of the things maybe we can talk about at the retreat is what measurement we would use to decide what our rank in the state is,” said Gelbrich. “So if this is how well we’re doing, and there’s some places that are doing better … what can we learn from them? That conversation starts with, ‘So what is the measurement that we would use?’ And part of the hope I would have is we wouldn’t use AYP.”

Gelbrich said more data will be available at the school board’s next meeting on Sept. 11.

The AYP data discussed at the board worksession was released Monday by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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