School district misses fed-imposed targets |

School district misses fed-imposed targets

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily/ Bret HartmanEagle Valley High School teacher Ron Beard conducts a question and answer lession Tuesday during the Freshman Seminar class in Gypsum.

EAGLE COUNTY – New federal education standards provide schools a target, but only bull’s-eyes count.That’s why the Eagle County School District failed to hit its federal targets for the 2003-04 school year. All but two of the district’s 14 public schools hit all their “Adequate Yearly Progress” targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The two that missed their targets didn’t miss by much, and for relatively small groups of students. No matter. The schools, and thus the district, failed. That puts Eagle County into a fairly big club.According to the Colorado Department of Education, school districts in Garfield and Summit counties failed to hit their federal targets, as did all but one of the state’s school districts with more than 5,000 students. Those districts educate about 80 percent of the state’s students.So what does missing the targets mean in Eagle County? At the moment, not much. Neither the district’s middle schools or high schools use federal “Title I” money, so they don’t have to put “Improvement” plans in place, district Director of Elementary Curriculum Carolyn Neff said.The district as a whole is a different story, though. If federal performance targets are missed a second straight year, the state will step in to help the district draft an improvement plan. That could result in more money being directed to certain programs, but would also come with greater state and federal supervision, Neff said.What missed?The schools that missed their targets were Minturn Middle School and Eagle Valley High School. Both missed their targets in one main area: The number of kids with limited English skills taking standardized math and reading tests.Missing those targets by just a few percentage points means a relative handful of students affected the entire district’s performance. The reason those students counted so heavily is due to something called “disaggregation,” which basically means slicing the student population into numerous demographic groups.

In the district’s elementary schools, the number of disabled, poor or immigrant students isn’t large enough to be broken out. As the middle and high schools get those students, though, their numbers rise to the point they must be counted as a distinct category.Some large high schools in the state can have huge numbers of subgroups. Cherry Creek High School, for instance, had 118 subgroups. Eagle Valley High School had 24, while Battle Mountain High School had 27.All those subgroups have to hit targets in test performance, participation in tests and graduation rates.The consequences for missing haven’t yet hit any districts in the state, but they could be significant, especially for districts that rely heavily on federal money. Even districts that don’t use a lot of federal money – Eagle County gets about $500,000 per year, most of which is used in elementary schools – could potentially face loss of accreditation, which could ultimately affect property values in a district.That’s why the local district is taking its latest “report card” quite seriously.A virtual plan”We’re acting as if we have an improvement plan in place,” Eagle Valley High School Principal Mark Strakbein said. “We’re taking the necessary actions to hit our goals in 2004-05.”Some of those steps include explaining the federal system to the staff, and how the school fell short. Another step is ensuring the school this year tests the right kids.”We’ve had someone working on basically database issues for months now,” district Director of Secondary Curriculum Mike Gass said. “With the kind of mobile population we have here, where a family can be in Minturn for a year, then Edwards, then Gypsum, we have to do a diligent job of tracking our minority populations and making sure we get them tested.”Those students then have to perform, which is where teaching comes in, Strakbein said. And that, ultimately, comes down to getting kids excited about learning.”That’s the trick and the art of teaching, motivating kids to hit their potential,” Strakbein said.

What about the standards?But when districts around the country are failing to hit “Adequate Yearly Progress” goals, are those targets too high?State education departments, including Colorado’s, have lowered their standards to get more kids scoring “proficient” or “advanced” on standardized tests. In Colorado, the rules were changed so kids who receive “partially proficient” scores on their Colorado Student Assessment Program tests count as “proficient” for federal purposes.Other than that, though, the view from Denver is that the federal targets are doing their job.”It’s doing what it was intended to do, showing the achievement gap in our schools,” said Pat Chapman, director of Title I services at the Colorado Department of Education. “It shows districts where they have work to do and requires them to develop plans to close the gap.”Breaking out sub-groups of students identifies where districts have the most work to do, rather than lump those kids into the broader student body, Chapman said. “That’s why it’s called No Child Left Behind,” he said.But the targets now in place may not be the ones schools have to hit when 100 percent proficiency is required in 2014.”It’s going to take some time to iron out the wrinkles in the system,” said Suzanne Singleterry, an education policy specialist in U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard’s office in Washington, D.C. Federal lawmakers are going to keep an eye on the progress of the standards, and may well adjust them in the future. That’s one of the things Gass is afraid of, he said.”The rules change all the time, and it’s politically driven,” Gass said. “A lot of the time we feel like we’re shooting at moving targets and we’re the last ones to know they’ve moved.”Ultimate goal

But few argue over the goal of the federal standards.”We should have 100 percent of our students successful,” Neff said.Strakbein, who has also run Battle Mountain and Red Canyon high schools, said the No Child Left Behind goals are a good thing.”I think we need to change a little bit of both, in the standards and in what we do, to get there,” he said.While the federal goals may shift over the years, Singleterry said, parents in districts that aren’t hitting goals this yea shouldn’t panic.”The world isn’t ending,” she said. “No one’s funding is going away right now.”But the prospect is out there, and the view from the local district office is the less the state and federal governments are involved, the better.”We don’t have any excuses,” Neff said. “We just need to do better.”================What is ‘AYP’?While the federal government’s “Adequate Yearly Progress” requirements have been around since 1994, those requirements were stiffened in 2001 with the passage of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. That law calls for 100 percent of all students to be “proficient” or “advanced” in math and reading by the 2014 school year.====================

Missed it by…Eagle Valley High School• Participation in “Limited English Proficiency” testing. Too few students took the tests. Missed target by: 2 percent• Academic performance by students with disabilities. Missed target by: 4 percentMinturn Middle School• Participation by “Limited English Proficiency” and “Economically Disadvantaged” students. Missed target by: 4 percent ====================What if?If the district misses its federal targets two years in a row, it will be required to draft, with the state, a “District Improvement Plan” that involves:• School choice in year one; and supplemental services in year two.• State and federal money may be available for the new programs. Ultimately, federal funds may be withheld if a district cannot meet its Adequate Yearly Progress targets.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or Colorado

Support Local Journalism