Low test scores leave school in a lurch

Some question the value of MAP examinations.
Sunday, August 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:28 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of an occasional series that will explore why three Columbia elementary schools failed to meet MAP proficiency goals. Today, we take a look at Derby Ridge Elementary.

The numbers aren’t adding up for teachers, parents and administrators at Derby Ridge Elementary.

The school’s total student population met the state’s 2004 proficiency goals on the Missouri Assessment Program exams, which test students annually in communication arts and math.

But a subgroup of Derby Ridge students — those qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch — did not meet the state’s target on the math test for the second year in a row. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, Derby Ridge is now flagged as a school needing improvement and must allow parents the option to transfer students to another Columbia public school.

At Derby Ridge, two of 37 free and reduced-price lunch students achieved proficiency on the MAP math test, two fewer than needed to avoid sanctions.

“It’s a bit frustrating,” said Mike Schooley, principal at Derby Ridge since it opened in 1991. “We’re proud of the progress our kids are making. I’m proud of the program we offer to our families and our students. We have teachers who are working hard.”

According to Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 32.1 percent of Derby Ridge students reached proficiency on the communication arts test and 21.8 percent on the math exam. To meet the state’s annual yearly progress targets, Missouri schools needed 20.4 percent of their students to score “proficient” or “advanced” in communication arts and 10.3 percent in math.

Those same target percentages must be achieved by subgroups in each school, unless there are fewer than 30 students in the category.

The subgroups are Asians, African-American, Hispanics, American Indians, Caucasians, special education students, students with limited English proficiency and students who receive a free or reduced-price lunch.

Schools need at least 50 students in the special education and limited English proficiency categories before those subgroups have to meet state targets.

At Derby Ridge, 5.4 percent of the free and reduced-price subgroup met the target goal in math.

The No Child law requires public schools to have an escalating percentage of students reach proficiency in reading and math each year. By 2014, 100 percent of Missouri public school students must achieve proficiency to comply with the No Child requirements.

“I think goals are meant to be set high, but I think that’s an unrealistic goal,” Schooley said.

The principal said Derby Ridge is considering challenging the math test scores of five to 10 free and reduced-price lunch students who scored close to the proficiency level.

The district’s Nutrition Services department estimated 300 of Derby Ridge’s 680 students are enrolled in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch program.

To qualify for a free lunch, students must come from families at or below 130 percent of the poverty level, according to the USDA Web site. To receive a reduced-price meal, students must come from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level.

This year, federal poverty guidelines list 130 percent of the poverty level at $24,505 and 185 percent at $34,873 for a family of four.

Schooley said 12 of the 37 free and reduced-price lunch students who took the math test were also in the special education subgroup. He said 18 scored “nearing proficient,” the level immediately preceding “proficient.”

Another 51 students who qualify for reduced-price lunch took the communication arts test, and the subgroup failed to reach the target scores on that exam for the first time. Eight in the subgroup passed the communications arts test, while 15 scored “nearing proficient.”

Third-graders are tested in communication arts, while fourth-graders are tested in math.

Fourth-grade teacher Ann Denney said the scores were disappointing.

“I think it’s a bit of a surprise, because we do see students making progress daily in what they learn,” she said.

A concern with the No Child law and annual yearly progress targets is that they fail to recognize schools’ improvement at the expense of a subgroup not meeting a particular standard, said Dr. Phyllis Chase, district superintendent.

“Certainly, the message to us as a school district is that every student counts,” she said.

Chase said schools should use the test results to focus on continuous improvement.

“We will not be satisfied, even when we have relatively high scores in some of our schoolsbecause we know that we can get better, and we know that’s what our public expects,” Chase said.

To help students increase their MAP test scores, Derby Ridge’s annual school improvement plan will stress development of individualized learning plans for students, Schooley said.

The elementary school should have its improvement plan outlined between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, the principal said.

Derby Ridge faces sanctions since it receives Title I funds for low-income students. The elementary school uses Title I money for a targeted assistance reading program geared towards first-graders.

In Missouri, 254 of 1,164 Title I schools did not reach targets this year.

Schooley said one parent has requested a student transfer because the school failed to achieve annual yearly progress targets.

“To be quite honest, I think most of the school community is supportive of Derby Ridge staff and the program we’re offering,” he said.

Mike Fayette, parent of three students at Derby Ridge, said the test results do not gauge the school’s success. He has a fifth-grade daughter who took the math test this spring.

“Derby Ridge is a great school, with a great principal, great teachers and a great administration,” he said. “I don’t think one test is an adequate measure of its performance.”

Eugene Field and West Boulevard Elementary schools are also under sanctions for failing to meet the standards in communication arts for two consecutive years.

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