Schools fail on progress goals (4/2/09)

April 2, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

For the fourth consecutive year, the Williston School District failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals. As a result, the Vermont Department of Education placed the district on a list of schools in need of corrective action.

According to a DOE report issued last week, Williston failed to meet progress goals in reading and math for two student groups: economically disadvantaged students, also called free and reduced lunch students, and students with disabilities.

Michael Hock, the DOE’s director of standards and assessments, said school districts needing corrective action must take steps to make Adequate Yearly Progress and improve standardized test scores.

“Williston certainly needs to work to improve those scores,” Hock said. “It’s not only Williston, though. It’s a statewide issue.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to meet guidelines, called Adequate Yearly Progress goals, to track improvement each year. Vermont uses the New England Common Assessment Program standardized tests to measure progress. NECAP tests are given to students in grades three through eight and in grade 11.

Besides Williston, all but one school in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union made Adequate Yearly Progress in all areas. Shelburne Community School did not make Adequate Yearly Progress for students with disabilities for the second year in a row and has been placed on a school improvement list.

Statewide, 88 schools in Vermont did not meet progress goals this year, with 31 placed in corrective action.

The release of the Adequate Yearly Progress results came just before a Williston Conceptual Frameworks Committee meeting discussing the future of the district’s configuration (see story on page 19). Parent Ann Smith spoke at the meeting last Thursday, calling Williston’s progress failure a direct result of the school district’s multi-age house system. Now is the time to “enact meaningful change,” she said.

“For a town of this wealth and education level, it’s unconscionable,” Smith said at the meeting.

Williston Central School Principal and Frameworks Committee member Jackie Parks disagreed with Smith’s statements. Parks said there’s no link between the school’s current configuration and academic achievement.

“All the research I’ve looked at said there’s no connection,” Parks said.

Jude Newman, director of curriculum for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, agreed.

“Schools of all sorts of configurations did not meet AYP,” Newman said. “It’s not a correlation.”

Last year, when Williston was then placed on a school improvement list, the district had to provide supplemental services for students in the subgroups. Students who qualified were able to receive extra help through organizations such as the Stern Center for Language and Learning at the school district’s expense.

Now that Williston has been placed on the corrective action list, the district must make changes based on federal guidelines, said Williston’s school support coordinator at the DOE, Lisa Lovelette.

According to Lovelette, schools in corrective action must either hire an outside expert, change curriculum, extend the school day or year, change management style, restructure internal organization or replace staff considered detrimental to making AYP. Lovelette said reconfiguring the school would constitute a restructuring under federal guidelines.

Lovelette said changes for both student subgroups would most likely be more helpful at early instructional levels, rather than a drastic reconfiguration.

“School change is not easy,” Lovelette said. “It’s a long process. I have absolute faith (Williston) can turn this around.”

Parks believes Williston may already be turning the corner, even though it was not completely reflected in this year’s NECAP scores. For instance, the school extended its school day this school year and added all-day kindergarten, Parks said. Also, students who qualified for supplemental services began their programs after the NECAP exams were given in October. There are other numerous ongoing intervention programs that recently took effect this year, Parks added.

“There are a lot of things that have happened that are just going into affect,” Parks said. “I think next year will be a pretty big year.”

If Williston again fails to make AYP for either student subgroup, the district will be put onto a second corrective action list, Lovelette said.

Hock added that schools are not under threat of losing state or federal aid. In fact, more money could be given to Williston for professional development.

“No school wants to be on the list,” Hock said.

Lovelette said she’ll meet with Williston school officials again later in the month to discuss what corrective action the district will enact.