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Parents consider transfers from ‘needs improvement' schools

Sunday, September 21, 2008 | 7:05 p.m. CDT; updated 11:40 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 13, 2010

COLUMBIA — Parents choose to move their children to another school for myriad reasons. As of Sept. 18, one child has transferred from Benton Elementary School because of low standardized test scores.

Benton, Mill Creek and Blue Ridge elementary schools were placed on the "needs improvement" list for failing to meet Missouri Assessment Program testing standards for the second year in a row. The list is compiled by the state in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

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Field and Parkade elementary schools are each starting their second year on the list after having failed to meet MAP standards for the past three years. A failing score means the schools didn't reach the level of proficient or above in communication arts, mathematics or attendance rate. These levels increase every year, making it more difficult for schools to meet the standards.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are eligible to receive federal funding based on the percentage of low-income students that are enrolled. These schools are called Title I schools. If Title I schools receiving federal funds enter the "needs improvement" category, they are required to give parents the option to transfer their students. Such is the case for Blue Ridge and Benton Elementary schools. Mill Creek, another first-time "needs improvement" school, is not a Title I school and does not have to offer transferring.

Although only one student has transferred because of the test scores, other parents have not ruled out the option.

"This is the base of building blocks," parent Jeff Parham said. "If they're learning math now, it's going to build."

Parham has three children, one of whom is in third grade and will be tested this spring.

"I think the teaching needs to be taken more seriously," he said. "They need to make more improvements so kids can grasp it."

The Missourian talked to several Benton parents, all of whom said they would consider transferring their children if scores did not improve.

Parent Angela O'Brien knew transferring was an option and was concerned with the transitions it would involve.

"They said we could transfer to another school, but all his friends are here," O'Brien said.

Principal Troy Hogg, also a Benton parent, doesn't see the need to transfer his own child. He said he decided what was best for his son based on individual progress and growth.

"At Benton, we will do our best to make sure parents have much achievement information available to them, not just the overall building MAP scores," Hogg said. "Hopefully, in this way, we will help parents make the best choice for their child — whether that is Benton or another school."

At Benton, teachers are working to improve students' test scores. Fifth-grade teacher Erika Akers added 15 minutes to her one-hour math class to better prepare for the test. Also, a math coach comes to her classroom three times a week, which Akers said adds excellent support.

"It's not about working harder, but working smarter," she said. "As classroom teachers, we use a variety of measures to see where the students begin and end the school year in terms of progress. MAP is just a snapshot, but it's a reality."

Benton did not meet the mathematics proficiency target, which was set at 45 percent. Only 19 percent of Benton students who were assessed in math met the goal in the spring. In 2007 the proficiency target was 35.8 percent, and 23.2 percent of the students met that goal.

Ann Alofs, a third-grade teacher at Benton, wasn't surprised with the scores. She said math was a weak subject for her students.

"We spent a great deal of time preparing for the test," she said. "There's a lot of background knowledge that kids need in order to be successful, so sometimes even though you've prepared and prepared, there may be a hole."

Benton will not necessarily make big changes in MAP preparation, Hogg said. Instead, the school will search for holes in students' progress.

"It takes a lot of reflection to figure those things out," he said. "It's only one to two days a year. One bad day could affect how they score."


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