Brooklyn Park Middle just misses the mark

State system grants schools flexibility when a few students fall short of progress goals

August 28, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

CLARIFICATION - A headline for an article in Thursday's Anne Arundel County section on Brooklyn Park Middle School's varying results in attempting to meet federal "adequate yearly progress" requirements may have left the impression that the school failed to meet the standard in the past school year. The school met adequate yearly progress requirements the last school year.

Losing a game or failing a test by just one or two points has always had a particular sting.

Brooklyn Park Middle School has felt a similar pain. Though the school triumphantly met federal testing benchmarks under No Child Left Behind this past school year, the school has narrowly failed to show what is called "adequate yearly progress" in four of the past six years.

Failure to meet the standard of the federal law for several years had, in the past, placed schools in danger of being required to restructure in one of three ways: replacing staff deemed responsible for low student achievement, converting to a charter school, or contracting with an outside operator to run a school.

But a new statewide accountability system implemented this year differentiates a school such as Brooklyn Park, where a handful of students weren't meeting the standard, from other schools, where proficiency might be a more distant goal. The system allows the school more flexibility and independence in righting the situation.

"It's always been just one child. It was always just right there," said Raymond Bibeault, senior manager for school improvement at Anne Arundel County Schools and a former principal at Brooklyn Park, who called the new system "kindler and gentler."

"It was frustrating when you list in the paper or on the Web site that a school doesn't make AYP [adequate yearly progress]," said Bibeault, adding that the school failed to meet the standard by just one or two students. "It doesn't paint the whole picture of what went on in that building and it doesn't take into account all the successes going on in that building."

The state's new system of categorizing schools - called School Improvement - will address the fact that some schools with small numbers of failing students have been subjected to the same measures as those with systemic problems, said Marti Pogonowski, the director of the office of continuous school improvement for the county schools. This will allow schools like Brooklyn Park to be more strategic in their goals.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools are required to make adequate yearly progress, as defined by students testing as proficient in reading and in math on annual standardized tests.

In order to make AYP, a percentage of students in eight sub-groups - American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian Pacific Islander, African-American, white, Hispanic, Free/Reduced Meals, Special Education and Limited English Proficient - must pass. Each year, the required percentage of passing students rises, until it reaches 100 percent in 2012.

In county results released this month, seven of 19 middle schools, two of 77 elementary schools and one alternative school failed to make adequate yearly progress.

At Brooklyn Park, a school of about 500 students, the ability to consistently make AYP has been just out of grasp. About half of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, a federal benchmark indicating poverty.

In 2003 and 2004, Brooklyn Park failed to meet AYP among special education students in reading. In 2005, it failed among African-American students in reading. The school made AYP in 2006. The next year, the school failed in reading among students who receive free and reduced meals and are in special education.

Brooklyn Park made AYP this past year, and if it meets the standard in 2008-2009, the school will exit School Improvement.

"A school like Brooklyn Park needs to continue doing what it's doing, and get better and better at what it's doing," Pogonowski said. "This new focused pathway allows the school to keep doing business as it has been doing, continue to focus. So they're not going to really change their school improvement plan, not going to change the governance of the school. They can continue to keep working, keep developing as a school."

Penny Rascoe, an assistant principal at Brooklyn Park and the school test coordinator, said she is pleased that the school will have more latitude to make necessary changes in order to meet standards.

She and other school officials have been examining students' Maryland State Assessment results from April, seeing where the most need for improvement lies. Teachers are also using "formative assessments," assessing the level of learning during instruction.

Last year, the school reconfigured its schedule to add a 45-minute "plus period," which on most days allows teachers a period to go over concepts that students might be confused about or might not be grasping on the first try.

And meanwhile, there has been an increase in the number of students making Honor Roll last school year, from the previous year. In one grading quarter, the number of students making A's and B's increased five percentage points; during another quarter, it increased 11 percentage points.

"We're glad they've recognized we're not a failing school," Rascoe said. "If you walk down the halls, the kids feel safe. It's a beautiful building. We've had a great opening this year. The teachers are pumped."

To celebrate the school making AYP this year, school officials are planning some sort of way to reward the students' achievements. Earlier this month, teachers were treated to a celebration breakfast.

"I think they appreciate being recognized for their hard work," Rascoe said. "This staff is fantastic. They really work hard for kids."

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