School officials express hope for better scores

Friday, August 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sixteen of Columbia’s 19 elementary schools won’t face sanctions from the No Child Left Behind Act in 2004. Next year might be different.

Three Columbia elementary schools are facing sanctions, two did not meet Annual Yearly Progress standards but will not be sanctioned and four of the remaining 14 schools wouldn’t meet next year’s standards with this year’s scores.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to meet yearly academic goals. Missouri uses the Missouri Assessment Program, which tests students on communication arts and mathematics, among other subjects.

This year’s No Child Left Behind Act AYP targets were 20.4 percent for communication arts and 10.3 percent for mathematics. In 2005, the communication arts standard jumps to 38.8 percent, and mathematics rises to 31.1 percent. The yearly progress targets will continue to rise until they reach 100 percent in 2014. The No Child Left Behind Act breaks the school population into eight subgroups and requires that every subgroup with 30 or more students must also individually meet the AYP standards.

Derby Ridge, Field and West Boulevard elementary schools are all facing sanctions after not meeting yearly progress standards two years in a row in the same subject. Parkade Elementary School, which failed for communication arts last year and math this year, has escaped sanctions because the failure occurred in a different subject. Rock Bridge Elementary School failed in communication arts for the first time.

Four additional elementary schools, Cedar Ridge, New Haven, Benton and Two Mile Prairie, all passed but would have failed next year’s requirements. That means if next year’s standards were applied to this year’s scores, nine of Columbia’s elementary schools — nearly half — would have failed.

Cheryl Cozette, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Columbia Public Schools, said she is aware of the uphill hike schools face but she has confidence in the schools.

“I think it is always a challenge where standard-based tests are concerned,” Cozette said. “We are up to the challenge.”

Cedar Ridge is one of the schools that would fail by next year’s standards. Nonetheless, Principal Barbara Stratton isn’t worried.

With a look of determination on her face, she threw up a fist.

“We can do it,” Stratton said. “Every year we think we’re working as hard as we can. Then, we have to try to do a little bit more.”

She said the interpretation of MAP scores by the act can be deceiving. Even high-performing schools might have subgroups that aren’t doing any better than some of the failing schools, but if they don’t meet the 30-people minimum required for a subgroup to be accounted into the testing, the numbers won’t show that, Stratton said.

“There’s much more to it than passing and failing,” she said.

She said a positive effect of the No Child Left Behind Act is it causes schools to look at existing groups that have gone unnoticed. She doesn’t, however, think Congress thoroughly thought through the act before passing it.

Colleen Jones has been a teacher at Cedar Ridge for five years. She doesn’t have a problem with being assessed on her students’ progress.

“You can’t be afraid of what goals you have to meet,” Jones said. “If you focus on the numbers, you can’t reach the children you need to reach. I’m concentrating on effective instruction.”

Debbie Willis, a teacher at Rock Bridge Elementary, expressed her frustration with the act, which tests third graders every year.

“Each class is different from year to year,” Willis said. “I don’t see how you can compare last year’s class with this year’s class. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”

Willis shrugged with a look of resignation.

“Yet, they do,” she said. “They should test fourth graders and see if they’ve improved. That is a more fair comparison.”

Ben Tilley is principal of Fairview Elementary, which scored the highest of all the schools on the MAP tests.

“I am thrilled about our high scores, but we’re also pleased about improving upon the scores we do have,” Tilley said. “We prepare them for reading and writing and all subjects. We pay attention to the goals, but we are not exclusively concentrating on MAP. We are also getting them ready for real-life applications.”

Coretta Williams is the parent of a special-needs child. Williams transferred her last year from Blue Ridge Elementary to Derby Ridge and was made aware of the No Child Left Behind Act by the school counselors.

“They shouldn’t have to put a law into effect for the school systems to become involved,” Williams said.

She compared her experiences at Blue Ridge in 2002 to those at Derby Ridge in 2003.

“Derby Ridge was being a lot stricter on their criteria for the kids. Derby Ridge was so involved it became a nuisance because I wasn’t used to it. As a parent, I thought I knew better. But overall, it benefited my daughter academically. There were smaller classrooms and more one on one.”

Derby Ridge, whose overall scores are high enough, are still facing sanctions for the free/reduced lunch subgroup failing to meet the AYP targets.

“If I had to choose between Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge and even Fairview, I’d choose Derby Ridge,” Williams said. “Give it a couple of years. They’ll get it together.”

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