Schools to offer outside services to certain students

Aug. 21, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The Williston School District is being required by the Vermont Department of Education to provide extra academic assistance to special education and economically disadvantaged students who did not meet proficiency levels on standardized tests. The district will have to allocate funds from its budget to pay upwards of $1,900 for educational services outside the schools for each student that qualifies.
The requirement has been made because Williston did not meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, standards for certain students over the past three years, as determined by the New England Common Assessment Program test results. Williston joins 22 other schools in Vermont that must provide the Supplemental Education Services for certain students.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to meet AYP to track improvement each year. Vermont measures progress through the Common Assessment Program tests, more commonly known as NECAP, which are given to students in grades three through eight. The NECAPs test math and reading, as well as writing in grades five and eight.
Though Williston students as a whole performed above state averages on the NECAP tests, students considered special education or economically disadvantaged, known as free or reduced lunch students, did not show enough progress in the past three years, leading to the district’s AYP failure. As a result, those students are eligible for the Supplemental Education Service.
The DOE has given schools and families a pre-approved list of service providers that specialize in tutoring students in math and reading. The providers, located in different parts of Vermont as well as online, are chosen only by families. School districts do not have a say in which provider a family chooses.
For Williston, the closest organization is the Stern Center for Language and Learning, located on Allen Brook Lane. Students can go to the center and receive tutoring for $80 an hour, according to the state’s list.
Allen Brook School Principal John Terko, who is overseeing the start of the program, said he would like to see as many qualified students as possible take part in the added services.
“We want kids to succeed, so if the extra help helps, then we’re all for it,” Terko said.
Terko said the district was required by the state to inform every parent, regardless of socio-economic status, about the programs. In doing so, some families might realize they qualify for free or reduced lunch if they have not participated in the past.
Since sending out the letter to families earlier this month, the district has already received four applications, which Terko said was a good start.
Money for the programs will come from Williston’s Title 1 funding, which had already been allocated in the school budget. The Title 1 money is given to school districts by the federal government to help finance education programs geared to low-income students.
Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Operations Officer Bob Mason said Williston would receive more than $183,000 in Title 1 funds for the upcoming school year; the portion of that money that will fund the Supplemental Services Program has yet to be determined. All Title 1 funds are given out through CSSU, Mason said.
Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks said each student would receive $1,943 per school year for the supplemental programs. If parents were interested in continuing the supplemental service after the allotted funds were used, they would have to pay on their own, Parks said.
Parks said families must apply by Oct. 31 for a child to be considered for the program. Parks added space would most likely be limited in the program, although she did not have an idea about how many spaces would be available. She did say priorities would be given to the lowest achieving students on the NECAPs.
“We think this is a good thing for the kids because more services never hurt,” Parks said.
Interestingly, the deadline for applying comes just weeks after the fall NECAP tests are administered in October. Services would then begin in November. So while Williston did not make AYP last year, the results of supplemental services will not be seen in the 2008 test data, but in the 2009 test data. In fact, results might not be fully released to schools until the spring of 2010, said District Principal Walter Nardelli.
“It’s a little bit off on the time frame,” Nardelli said. “(Students are) being tested before they can enroll in the program.”
Nardelli said it’s difficult for schools to play catch-up when the process is a year behind, but the positive benefit is that students can get the extra help they need, even if test data might not show it for some time.
Parks said the school district is taking its own steps in improving its NECAP scores among students. The district is being more aggressive in intervening when students fall behind in reading and math. Some students who did poorly on the tests were able to get help over the summer. During a two-week period, students who signed up were able to get instruction in math and reading.
“With any child who didn’t score well on the NECAP, they’ve had a whole slew of intensive support,” Parks said.
Terko said the one of the goals of the administration was to “get the word out” in regards to the Supplemental Education Service. He said families of students who  think they might qualify should contact him or Parks at 878-2762 as soon as possible.
“This is important to all of us and we’re all going to make an effort,” Terko said.