Elementary falls short of making AYP

by nathan oster

Greybull Elementary School came up short of making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in language arts for a second straight year, putting the school in year one of School Improvement status.

GES had been already been in “warning” status, which was based on student performance in statewide assessment tests during the 2011-12 school year.  It was moved into “school improvement” by the Wyoming Department of Education based upon scores turned in on the 2012-13 Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS).

The state shared its preliminary AYP findings with superintendents around the state  in mid September.  They have not been released statewide, but Supt. Barry Bryant has shared the determination with members of the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees, as recently as Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but we had an inking it was going to be the case,” Bryant said  in an interview Tuesday.

The school will be in year one of “school improvement” for language arts for the Free and Reduced Lunch subgroup, and in a “warning year” school wide in the area of language arts, specifically reading scores.

Bryant explained that the school’s failure to meet the AYP targets may be linked, at least in part, to the factors outside the school’s control. “We had of move-ins, our special needs numbers increased and our ELL population increased,” he said. “What all that means is that we had to do a lot of intervention, just to get ready to take the state assessment.

“Those aren’t excuses; they are facts,” he said.

While reading scores were down, Bryant said elementary students fared very well in math.

In addition, he noted when comparing percentiles, the elementary school actually fared better than both the middle and high schools, both of which made AYP with flying colors. “The AYP targets for the elementary school are higher,” Bryant said.

The AYP targets for this year were set by the federal government, which based them on historical data which showed that elementary students typically outperform middle and high school students on the statewide assessment tests.

“The target AYP for reading was extremely high, around 85 percent,” said Bryant.  “And in small classes, you’re talking about five or six kids who, if we could have gotten their scores up, the school would have met AYP no problem.

“We have work to do as a staff. We need to do a better job of individualizing instruction, to make sure those kids meet the goals, too.”

Bryant said he believes the district has already taken positive steps to address the AYP issues at the elementary school, including hiring of an additional third grade teacher, an additional special education teacher and an interventionist.

“Our K-3 levels are still too high, though,” he said, citing the second grade as an example.  There are currently 43 kids in second grade, putting the district above the 16-to-1, student-to-teacher ratio recommended by the state.

“We saw this coming,” Bryant said. “But midyear, it’s almost impossible to hire staff and make those kind of adjustments.  I’ll try to do a better job of that as we move forward.”

Bryant said the school district is doing more after-school interventions this year, trying to get kids over the bar.

The AYP goals are based upon the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that are placed in “warning” status are given one year to make adjustments.  If their scores don’t improve, they go into “school improvement” status, where they remain for a minimum of two years, according to Bryant.

Bryant said if Greybull was a larger community with multiple schools, it would have to provide notice to parents that they were free to choose a different school.  But that doesn’t apply here, since there is only one school in the community — and since the district offers open enrollment anyway.  Thanks to that, students living in Basin can (and do) attend school in Greybull; the opposite is also true, with Greybull students having the choice to attend school in Basin.

Bryant said the AYP determination for the elementary school would also impact how title money is spent in the district.  A certain percentage must be earmarked for addressing the areas where schools fell short of making AYP.

Bryant said the fact that the elementary didn’t make AYP shouldn’t detract from what was an otherwise solid performance by Greybull students on the PAWS.  “Our middle school kids did phenomenal,” Bryant said. In reading, GMS put 91 percent of its student in proficient and advanced in the sixth grade, 88 percent in the seventh grade and 90 percent in the eighth grade.

The district will also need to write a school improvement plan, although Bryant said, “A lot of that stuff has already been put in place.”

He emphasized that the AYP determination shouldn’t be taken as a knock on the teachers at the elementary school. “I’m down there two or three times a week, and teachers down there are doing a lot of good things,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making sure we give them the personnel they need.”

The school district had to get a waiver from the state because its K-3 student-to-teacher ratio exceeded 16-1. It came in around 19 to 1.  “Those things hurt you, especially when you have a lot of special needs and ELL kids,” he said.