Failure to meet goals overshadows student progress (4/23/09)

April 23, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Williston students are performing better than Adequate Yearly Progress goals would lead people to believe, say school officials. In some cases, students nearly reached the progress goals set by the federal government, said Williston’s Math Curriculum Coordinator Rick McGraw.

“It’s a razor thin margin in some (subjects),” McGraw said.

In a presentation to the School Board last week, McGraw said in the four years Williston students have taken NECAP exams, there have been annual improvements in scores. This is especially true of two subgroups that have not met federally mandated progress goals: students on free or reduced lunch programs and special needs students.

“We’re now starting to get data to track some changes in individual students over four years,” McGraw said at the April 15 meeting.

While both subgroups in Williston still lag behind progress goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, McGraw finds the results encouraging, especially in the fields of literacy.

“There’s some real nice growth that you can see,” he said.

New England Common Assessment Program tests, better known as NECAPs, are given every fall to test reading and math skills of all students in grades three through eight, and in grade 11. Writing tests are given to students in grades five, eight and 11. Science NECAPs are administered in the spring.

The NECAP tests measure progress and determine whether school districts meet federally mandated goals called Adequate Yearly Progress. For the fourth year in a row, Williston failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals for free or reduced lunch and special needs students. The school has been placed on a corrective action program by the Vermont Department of Education for this year.

According to data tabulated by McGraw based on four years of NECAP results, students across the school and in all subgroups are progressing, although less so in math.

Williston students have seen a 7 percent increase in reading scores and a 9 percent increase in writing scores over the four years. Students in the subgroups have also, for the most part, progressed in both subject areas.

In terms of meeting Adequate Yearly Progress reading goals pertaining to free or reduced lunch students, McGraw said the school was just four students short of meeting proficiency levels. Eighty-six free or reduced lunch students were tested in math and reading. For special needs students, it wasn’t as close, but there was notable improvement, he said.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said the reading and writing data didn’t surprise her.

“I think it makes sense, because we’ve had reading recovery programs for three years now,” Worth said.

Only in math has there been stagnation in results. Students have barely increased their progress by 1 percent over four years, McGraw’s data shows.

“There’s really no significant change to be seen,” McGraw said.

McGraw said after the meeting that Williston’s free and reduced lunch subgroup fell 12 students short of meeting Adequate Yearly Progress goals in math.

“Math is an area we need to focus our attention on,” he said.

McGraw told the board he was not a fan of the NECAP exams when students first took them four years ago, but his opinions have changed since using the data provided.

“The more I learn about (the NECAPs), the more I like them,” he said.

He explained that the exam provides expert data that school assessments don’t always provide. McGraw said the tests are created with input from teachers across New England and accurately reflect school curriculums.

“It’s a good test to teach to,” McGraw told the Observer.

McGraw and District Principal Walter Nardelli said they expect even better results with next fall’s test. Literacy and math programs that started two years ago should be more accurately reflected.

McGraw said last summer’s extra help program for students who did not meet proficiency standards improved the scores for students in the most recent NECAP test, and adding a second summer school program this year should help even more.

McGraw even hinted it’s possible the school district could meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals in some capacity.

“That’s certainly achievable,” McGraw said.