60% of city elementary and middle schools fall short

But Alonso says adequate yearly progress is becoming irrelevant

August 05, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Sixty percent of Baltimore's elementary and middle schools failed to reach their annual progress goals based on state test results, a target that principals still strive for but the city schools CEO sees as becoming irrelevant.

Though Maryland School Assessment scores for city students in math and reading were flat or showed some gains this year, 85 of the 142 Baltimore elementary and middle schools did not meet the goals known as adequate yearly progress, according to data from city schools. Last year, 71 of the 150 elementary and middle schools tested -- or 47 percent -- did not meet their targets.

Fifty-seven Baltimore schools remain on the state's "school improvement list," which means that they failed to meet federally mandated progress targets for at least two years in a row.

Jessica Shiller, education director for Advocates for Children and Youth, an organization that monitors the city's progress and education policies, said the number of city schools missing their adequate yearly progress targets this year is high, though not unusual in a district that serves a substantial number of low-income students. She said that makes it "incumbent upon the school system to play a much stronger role in getting kids to achieve."

City schools CEO Andrés Alonso said that although adequate yearly progress, also known as AYP, is part of how a school's achievement is measured, the yearly targets are far from the strongest method for determining a school's successes and shortfalls. The targets are set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which dictates that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014 and raises standards every year.

"It's a perverse conversation, because schools can be improving and not make AYP and other schools can be declining and still make AYP," Alonso said. "It focuses school attention only on the tested subjects as part of the push for accountability.

"I have said since Day One that I don't care about AYP," he said. "I care about progress."

The principal of City Springs Elementary/Middle School, which fell short of its AYP targets this year, agreed with Alonso's conclusion that the goals are lacking as a measure of progress.

"I try to keep my teachers and my parents focused on the progress we are making because we need to celebrate that," said Principal Rhonda Richetta. "Because if we focus on only AYP, then it looks like we're failing, and we're not."

In order for a school to make adequate yearly progress, all subgroups must perform at a certain standard. The subgroups include students by race, such as black or Hispanic; socioeconomic background, such as children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches; or special-education students. Student attendance is also a factor.

Each year, the state sets a higher standard that schools should achieve to meet 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Every school system is held to the same annual goal, though the goals can be adjusted to each school's grade-level enrollment and structure.

In 2009-2010, the targets were 81.2 percent and 79.4 percent in elementary school reading and math, respectively. In middle schools, the targets were 80.8 percent in reading and 71.4 percent in math.

Richetta said she and her team made changes when she took over City Springs three years ago, when 4 percent of her sixth-graders were proficient in math; that number rose to 52 percent in 2010. With the exception of eighth grade, all other middle school scores at City Springs increased this year, and the majority of the school's scores in elementary grades also rose -- some with double-digit increases.

But the school did not meet its targets, Richetta said, because "raising the scores to the degree that we needed to raise them  takes time." The school had already failed to make its targets twice before she took over and because it didn't make adequate yearly progress for five years, it is required to devise a restructuring plan. The plan would require staff members to reapply for their jobs, among other shake-ups.

"It's heartbreaking for the teachers, because they're working so hard and doing so much, and we didn't make AYP," said Richetta. "They just want to cry."

Fifty-seven Baltimore elementary and middle schools did meet their targets, and five city schools were among 10 in the state that were removed from the school improvement list, meaning that after years of failure, they met progress targets for at least two years in a row. Nine schools from the city were added to the list this year.

The school system was removed from "corrective action" last year, a designation that means that a high percentage of its schools have not met federal standards, allowing the state to intervene in running the school system.

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