Most N.D. schools don’t meet set goalsOnly about a third of North Dakota public school districts met federal goals in reading and math this past school year, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Instruction.
By: By Stephen J. Lee , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Only about a third of North Dakota public school districts met federal goals in reading and math this past school year, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Instruction.
Of the state’s 178 school districts, 67 made “adequate yearly progress,” a measure of how students in those districts perform on standardized tests.
But school districts are actually doing better than they were several years ago when the number making AYP was higher, according to DPI’s director of standards and achievement, Gary Gallagher in a Wednesday interview.
Simply put, the bar has been raised regularly in the past decade of testing required by the federal “No Child Left Behind” law, he said. “The general reason schools are not making AYP is that the expected achievement goals are quite high.”
In other words, the bar has been raised faster than schools are improving, but that doesn’t mean schools aren’t improving.
In the 2002-2003 school year, 178 of the then-total of 211 school districts — a full 84.4 percent — met AYP standards.
But back then, as the AYP process was introduced, the achievement goals were nearer 40 percent of students reaching their grade-level proficiency, Gallagher said. This year, the goal was to have nearly 90 percent of the students reach appropriate proficiency in reading and about 84 percent in math.
The AYP reports student achievement rates in mathematics and reading in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 for the overall student population of districts and school-by-school.
While the achievement targets have been raised, test results in math have shown real improvement over the decade, said Gallagher, a graduate of Mandan High School who has been tracking school data for 20 years for DPI.
The percentage of students statewide testing at the advanced or top level in math, for example, has gone from 19 percent to 27 percent over the past 10 years; meanwhile, the percentage of students getting the lowest scores — “novice” and “partly proficient” — has gone from 30 percent to 23 percent.
But in reading, the testing results have remained about the same in all categories, Gallagher acknowledged.
Big districts lag
None of the largest districts — Bismarck, Fargo, West Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot — made AYP this school year.
The Fargo district’s composite scores for reading and math were 75.91 percent and 79.94 percent, respectively; Grand Forks’ were 78.14 percent and 80.13 percent.
The goals for each district in reading and math were 89.1 percent and 83.5 percent, respectively.
Cavalier, Thompson and Northwood districts made AYP; most others in the northeast part of the state did not.
Locally, the Jamestown Public School District did not meet the overall 2011-2012 AYP standards.
For reading, the district was at 76 percent, roughly 13 percentage points shy of the AYP goal. For math, however, the district was at nearly 85 percent, more than 1 percentage point higher than the AYP goal.
Jamestown High School and Jamestown Middle School were the only two schools in the district who did not meet AYP standards, as all five JPS District elementary schools were up to AYP standards.
Gallagher said the AYP program has helped school districts focus on making sure students are learning what they need to learn. The criticism that schools “teach to the tests” doesn’t hold water because the tests change every year, he said.
The achievement goal is slated to rise again, to a mark of having 100 percent of the students test as proficient for their grade by 2014, so it’s likely the AYP success won’t get much better.
The testing regime requires that at least 95 percent of the district’s students who have been there at least a year take the tests. That is a main reason the testing is reliable, Gallagher said.
“Consistently, we have among the highest rates of participation in the country,” he said.
Many schools indicate 99 percent or more of the students take the tests.
“Secondly, we are finding great consistency from year to year and among the districts,” he said. “A school will perform generally at a level consistent with previous years.”
That’s a good sign the testing is valid, he said.
North Dakota students look good compared to students from other states, based on national tests that also corroborate the state’s AYP findings, he said.
A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report on science proficiency, in fact, released last month showed North Dakota tops among the 50 states, Gallagher said. The state’s students test out regularly among the top 10 states in math but in the middle of the pack when it comes to reading, he said.
The goal for AYP testing is to have nearly all the states use a common process by 2015, he said.
The AYP reports also look at several categories of students; by race, by income level and those with disabilities.
Gallagher said the data shows that “economic disadvantage is a predominant factor.”
Areas of the state with the lowest economic performance — usually connected to Indian reservations — tend to show up with lower AYP.
The Fort Totten district shows some of the lowest achievement: 20 percent of the students tested proficient in reading, only 8.3 percent in math, one-tenth of the goal.
There is no penalty to the state or the state’s schools for not meeting AYP levels, according to Gallagher. It’s the process being followed, the testing itself, that is the goal of the federal law. And the idea isn’t to brand schools as under-achieving, but to aid education.
“What the law is intended to do is to present valid and reliable information that tells us comparative information for local schools, so the schools can reflect on this data and so they can plan to meet the different needs of the students,” he said. “It’s only first by opening one’s eyes we can best move forward with dispatch on the difficult tasks in some locations.”
On the Web: Most districts have links to their AYP reports on their websites; or go online at www.dpi.state.nd.us/dpi/reports/profile/index.shtm.