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‘It’s all about growth’
by Jessica Carner
Aug 28, 2011 | 2428 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO — So you’ve heard about Washoe County schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and other schools that did not, but what does it all mean and should you be concerned if your child attends a school that didn’t?

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was passed in 2002, measures overall school improvement, or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), year-over-year based on 45 target areas. The act requires schools to show 75 percent improvement in overall proficiency by 2014 to reach “universal proficiency.”

The problem with NCLB, Morrison said during an interview Wednesday, is it does not track the progress of individual students and classrooms in a manner that requires all students to show personal growth each school year. It also forces educators to focus on average test scores, rather than making sure each student is improving.

“We want to be held accountable for moving each child forward,” Morrison said. “With AYP, we are not being held accountable for that.”

According to Morrison and a number of principals and teachers in the district, AYP is not what parents should be concerned with. The more accurate measure of school, teacher and student progress is whether the school is meeting the goals set forth in Envision WCSD 2015, the district’s new strategic plan, which sets rigorous student and teacher achievement standards through The Pathway to College and Highly-Skilled Career Readiness (The Pathway).

The basic concept behind The Pathway is to track the progress of each student to make sure they are moving ahead in their education. AYP does not put the success of the individual student at the forefront, but WCSD’s growth model does. If a student is not progressing the way they should be, extra resources and assistance are given.

The Sparks Tribune met with principals at a couple of local schools to see the growth model in action.

At Echo Loder Elementary School, it’s safe to say the district’s plan is working.

“Eighty-nine percent of the students at Echo Loder are ESL (English as a second language),” Morrison said Wednesday. “This is a school that traditionally struggles to make AYP, but they made it this year for the first time in five years or so.”

Morrison said while he is proud of the school for meeting AYP standards, what he is really excited about is that the students are moving forward according to district standards.

“The data is impressive,” Morrison said of Echo Loder. “They moved the entire school forward … it’s all about growth.”

Chad Hicks, who is in his second year as principal at Echo Loder, said the key to the school’s success is the monitoring of each child’s progress and intervention when necessary. He also attributes the school’s growth to a staff of dedicated teachers and before and after school programs.

“This new growth model is really focused on all children,” Hicks said on Friday.

Hicks said his school has the “luxury” of Title I funding, and Echo Loder chooses to use that money to hire additional staff.

“It’s tough for schools that don’t have this funding,” Hicks, who used to work in the district Title I office, said.

The support staff hired with Title I funding at Echo Loder works every minute of the day with students in various classrooms, Hicks said.

“We identify students that are falling behind on a weekly basis,” Hicks said.

By focusing on the success of all students, Echo Loder was able to raise proficiency levels of students last year in English and math.

“In math, we made it across the board and even surpassed the district,” Hicks said. “I have to give credit to the dedicated teachers … it’s a collective effort of everyone working together.”

Teachers and administrators across the district are monitoring student progress, but students also are being held accountable.

Echo Loder students have binders they use to track their progress, and are given goals to reach. The same is happening at Bernice Mathews Elementary School, a multi-track Title I school.

“Assessments on kids are done every other week,” said Melissa Olsen, who is in her second year serving as principal at Mathews. “We talk with the teachers monthly about each student and set goals with teachers and the kids.”

Olsen said she believes it is imperative that the school is very specific with students and parents about goals the student needs to be striving to reach.

“Everyone should be growing,” Olsen said, adding that support staff and intervention techniques also are being used at Mathews.

Mathews students also can take online assessments to see exactly where they are in their education.

“The online assessment gives them their level and then tells them where they should be,” Olsen said.

Though Mathews Elementary is on “watch” status as far as AYP goes, Olsen said she still believes the school is on the right track according to the district’s standards.

“We didn’t make all the growth,” according to AYP in the English Language Arts assessment area, Olsen said. “But we have some pretty significant challenges to meet that level.”

Olsen said 65 percent of students at Mathews come in as Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and that it takes some time to get everyone up to speed.

“Our main goal is to personalize the education for each child,” Olsen said, while working toward closing achievement gaps. “Every student, by name and face, to graduation — that’s my goal.”
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