Five local schools meet testing benchmarks

7 off-target schools won't be affected by No Child Left Behind consequences

Posted: Sunday, August 09, 2009

Of Juneau's 12 public schools, five met all the requirements for student achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act last school year, according to state data released Friday.

That's one more school than in the 2007-2008 school year to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark, and it indicates students are making progress, district officials said.

"We're certainly pleased that five schools have made AYP," Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said. "Naturally, the goal is for every school to meet that ... but several of our subpopulations are showing continued progress in their achievement."

Auke Bay Elementary School, Harborview Elementary School, Juneau Community Charter School, Mendenhall River Community School and Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School met the requirements.

The progress is partially undercut by the fact that one additional school also failed to meet the progress benchmark. Unlike past years, high schoolers at the newly accredited Yaakoosge were tallied separately from Juneau-Douglas High School for the first time. And Thunder Mountain High School's opening last fall added another school - which didn't achieve AYP.

Federal law allows the state to replace staff or restructure schools that fail to meet standards for several years. Juneau schools largely are exempt from state intervention, however, because few receive federal anti-poverty funds. Both of the district's middle schools and Juneau-Douglas High School have failed to meet AYP for five years, but no restructuring is planned, Scandling said.

The local school AYP rate of about 42 percent - or about 36 percent if the HomeBRIDGE home schooling program and the Johnson Youth Center's educational program are counted as schools - is well below the statewide rate of about 55 percent, itself a grim indicator.

"It's not good," Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Larry LeDoux said during a news conference Friday. "It's something we're not happy with. ... We recognize that there is still much work to be done."

Under No Child Left Behind, a certain percentage of students must meet minimum proficiency requirements in math, language arts and participation each year. The target percentages apply to a school's overall population, as well is specific subpopulations defined by race, poverty or disabilities. Schools also are measured on attendance and graduation rates. A school's overall rating is boiled down to either making adequate yearly progress or not; if a school misses a single target in any category, it doesn't make AYP.

And the targets increase year after year. By the 2013-2014 school year, all students in all categories must achieve academic proficiency. This coming school year, at least 77 percent of students must demonstrate proficiency in language arts and 66 percent in math, based on standardized tests.

Of the local schools that failed to make AYP, two missed it by only one indicator. Gastineau Elementary and Juneau-Douglas High School fell short in the number of students with disabilities in math. Statewide, 79 schools fell short in only one target.

The rating doesn't tell the complete story, Scandling said.

"If you have one school, one factor, one kid, you don't meet it," she said. "That's not reflected in the numbers. AYP is black or white, yes or no. I can't say why some miss AYP. We don't know yet if a school missed it by one kid, one category."

The district plans to take a closer look at the numbers to determine where the schools fell short, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said in a prepared statement.

"We just received the data and are glad to see some positive trends for Juneau schools, but our work is just beginning," he said in a news release. "We will now look closely at both the district and school level information and see how we can use it to help shape instruction to better meet the needs of our students."

The numbers do point to positive trends, Scandling said. For example, the graduation rate of JDHS, which historically has failed to meet AYP, jumped two years in a row to 74 percent in 2008 and 79.5 percent this year. Yaakoosge, previously counted among JDHS students, also improved on the combined 2008 graduation rate, with 76.6 percent graduating this year.

Statewide, the graduation rate hovers at about 66 percent.

Despite the annual stress that comes to districts when AYP results are released, Scandling said Juneau tries to put a positive spin on the numbers.

"While we would really welcome a universal AYP, we understand what's more important is looking at where students are not proficient so we can focus on that," she said. "If there's a trend that is not as it should be, that helps us work with principals who work with teachers to strengthen instruction."

LeDoux said he never will be happy until 100 percent of Alaska students are successful, but success is measured in ways other than test scores.

"We have to have a dream bigger than this test," he said.

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