2009-06-04 / Front Page

Island schools perform well in state report

By Eileen M. Daly

A report released by Governor Donald L. Carcieri on the annual school-performance classifications shows that Jamestown schools are performing well.

The classifications are based on the results from the 2008-09 state tests in mathematics, reading, and writing and the 2007-08 attendance and four-year graduation rates.

The report indicated that statewide 157 elementary schools, 51 middle schools and 33 high schools have met all of their targets. "Our schools are moving in the right direction," Governor Carcieri said. "In fact, 85 percent of our elementary schools and 94 percent of our middle schools met all of their performance targets this year."

Under the No Child Left Behind provisions, the state sets annual targets for each school level in English and mathematics, attendance and graduation rates. These target scores, which are based on how many students achieve profi- ciency or improve at other scoring levels, rise in equal increments until they reach 100 in 2014.

Targets must be met on a school-wide basis as well as for each of eight student groups: Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, White, students in poverty, students with disabilities, and English-language learners. Schools are not required to meet the target for student groups, however, unless they have 45 or more students in that group in all tested grades for high schools over three years of testing.

In Jamestown, both Lawn Avenue and Melrose Avenue Schools have met all of the state standards and both schools are classified as Met Adequate Yearly Progress. "We continue to meet the standards," Jamestown's Superintendent Marcia Lukon said. "We are seeing slight increases in some areas, but we would like to see steady inclines in all areas."

To meet the goal, Lukon said the strategic planning committee has developed a new five-year school improvement plan that will be presented, and hopefully approved, at tonight's School Committee meeting.

Lukon said the plan includes four major goals. One of the goals is to implement methods to ensure a steady incline. According to Lukon, that goal reads: Provide differentiated instruction and assessment that insures that every student reaches increasingly higher levels of achievement.

Lukon indicated that the planning committee was comprised of 20 members, including a town councilor, representatives from the school improvement teams and from the special education department along with eight teachers. "We've had good input," Lukon said, "and the teachers definitely feel that this is a doable plan."

North Kingstown High School has not fared as well on the NCLB assessment.

The high school met 13 of the 17 assigned targets, but fell short in meeting the targets for the Students with Disabilities classification in English Language Arts and the Economically Disadvantaged Students classification in both English Language Arts and Mathematics.

Part of the requirement for meeting the standard in these areas includes the number of students who complete testing. The target is set at 95 percent for Students with Disabilities in English Language Arts. The percentage of these students who completed the test at North Kingstown High School was 92.7 percent, which fell short of the target. Similarly, targets for completion in the category of Economically Disadvantaged Students were also set at 95 percent for both English Language Arts and Mathematics. The percentage of students in this category at the high school who completed the English Language Arts and Mathematics segment of the test was 92.6 percent, so both fell below the standard.

Based on these missed targets, North Kingstown High School was classified as "Has Not Made Adequate Yearly Progress, Intervention Status - 1st Year."

North Kingstown's Superintendent Phil Thornton acknowledged these deficiencies while plotting a course of corrective action. "In order to meet the standards we have to ensure that 95 percent of the students in that category are tested," Thornton said.

"So if a student is in an outof district placement or is out of school with an illness we have to either find a way to test that student or we have to request a waiver from the Rhode Island Department of Education," he said, referring to the missed completion targets. "At 92.6 percent, we may have missed one or two students."

In order to address the academic targets and to ensure steadily increasing student performances, Thornton said he has begun implementing a plan of assessment to help identify and correct deficits immediately. "There are a lot of different standards," Thornton said. "We need to identify those that matter the most and re-do our curriculum around these core standards."

Thornton also emphasized the need to continually assess students to determine if and when these core standards are not being adequately absorbed. "We need to institute benchmark tests at least three times per year to assess student progress," Thornton said. "Previously, our model has been more about coverage than mastery," he said.

Thornton said that changing basic assumptions and underlying beliefs like these doesn't happen overnight. "Instituting change of this kind is kind of like turning the Queen Mary," he said. He intends to stay the course, however, and is optimistic that these important changes can and will be implemented over the course of the next three years.

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