“The system is broken,” Pell City Assistant Schools Superintendent Michael Barber said. “We’ve been saying that from day one.”
Pell City and St. Clair County are two systems that failed to meet their annual Adequate Yearly Progress mark and must use Title I money to improve AYP progress goals.
Barber said because their system met 113 of 116 goals systemwide, the school system must use 10 percent of Title I money, which equates to $96,000, to improve AYP marks.
But the kicker, Barber said, is the $96,000 must be used at Title I schools. A school can qualify as a Title I school if 40 percent of the student body is below a certain poverty level and qualifies for free and/or reduced lunches.
Barber said the two schools that failed to meet AYP, Pell City High and Williams Intermediate, are not Title I schools.
He said the school system will use the $96,000 of Title I money for professional development at the Title I schools, all of which made AYP. In addition, the system has plans to help improve AYP marks for all Pell City schools.
He said as a system, teachers, administrators and parents are working together to develop a continuous improvement plan or CIP.
Barber said although students continue to improve AYP marks, the system narrowly failed to meet AYP benchmarks that are raised each year.
In 2009, the high school made AYP, but failed to meet the benchmarks for the past two years. The high school is currently identified for “School Improvement.”
According to the Alabama Department of Education, it takes two years of not making AYP to be designated for School Improvement. It takes two years of positive growth and of making AYP for a school to progress out of School Improvement status.
“I think it paints good schools and good school systems in a negative light,” Barber said of the AYP benchmark goals.
Schools missing AYP for at least two consecutive years will receive specific training and technical assistance through a state support team, which will help schools analyze their assessment data and develop a continuous improvement plan.
Barber said Williams Intermediate met 20 of 21 AYP goals, while the high school achieved 15 of 17 goals. Williams Intermediate is not identified for School Improvement because this is the first time the school has not made AYP.
“I do not know any other grading system where you fail with making 88.25 percent of your goals,” Barber said.
In accordance with NCLB, schools and school systems must meet annual goals in academics of the overall student population and by student groups, including economic background, race/ethnicity, limited English proficiency and special education.
Depending on the student composition, a school will have a minimum of five goals and up to 37 goals it must meet every year.
In accordance with the NCLB legislation, schools and systems must meet 100 percent of their respective annual goals in all student groups identified as having achieved AYP. As a result, missing just one goal will prevent a school or system from making AYP.
NCLB law requires that schools and school systems must have all children meet certain proficiencies for reading and math. Special education students are included in the reading and math proficiency test results, and AYP reports include graduation and attendance rates. Schools and school systems could lose federal funds if NCLB benchmarks are not met by 2014.
Jenny Seals, superintendent of the St. Clair County School System, said because their system did not make AYP for two consecutive years, it must use about $150,000 of Title I money to help the system meet AYP goals.
She said about 75 percent of the money will help fund the salary of the system’s school improvement specialist, while the remaining funds go toward professional development for all Title I schools.
Three St. Clair County schools did not make AYP, but only Moody High School is identified for School Improvement. The high school is not a Title I school.
If Moody High was a Title I school, the School system would be required to offer students the choice to transfer to another school in that system or access to free after-school tutoring, if the choice is not available.
Seals agreed that could cause problems for a school system.
“We had that issue before,” she said.
Seals said when she first took over as superintendent there was a Title I school in School Improvement status. Parents were offered school choice, but everyone opted to remain at the school.
She said students continue to improve each year in AYP, but the system has come up short of new benchmarks.
“I’m very proud of where we came from,” Seals said. “Our goal is to help students learn.”
She said AYP could be fairer if it would instead measure “growth” or improvements instead of set benchmarks.
“Improvement needs to be recognized,” Seals said.
Even though the St. Clair County School System is striving to meet AYP benchmarks, it may not be possible to meet every single goal.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be at 100 percent by 2014,” Seals said. “But I’m not sure if every child will be at 100 percent.”
Fortunately, Barber said, the people who developed the AYP guidelines are now revisiting the NCLB program.
“I’m thrilled with that,” Barber said. “We need a system that accurately identifies schools that are performing well and those that are not performing well. I don’t think the system we now have does that.”
Contact David Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.