No schools left behind

The Baltimore Sun

Carroll County educators have cause to celebrate: None of the system's elementary or middle schools made the state's 2007-2008 list of Maryland schools in need of improvement.

Last year, one elementary and five middle schools failed to meet federal government's benchmarks for "adequate yearly progress": Robert Moton Elementary and East, North Carroll, Oklahoma Road, Sykesville and West middle schools. Carroll Springs School, which serves students with disabilities throughout the county, also was identified as needing improvement.

The 2007 list, which was released Wednesday, comes nearly two months after a fresh round of Maryland School Assessment test results. Of the six Baltimore-area school systems, only Carroll had all of its schools meet adequate yearly progress.

That achievement speaks to an overall, systemwide effort, said Gregory Bricca, the system's director of research and accountability.

"They really had to focus on some countywide improvement, not just at the schools that were struggling," Bricca said. "Folks worked together and said, 'Hey, if they didn't make it, it could have been us.' ... There was some real focused effort, some collaboration among schools."

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires school systems to have 100 percent of their students passing state assessments by 2014. In working toward that goal, schools and their districts must make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, which is based on at least 95 percent of students taking the assessments, and how all those students fared -- not just the average student score.

If a school does not meet AYP two years in a row and receives Title I funding, parents must be given the option of sending their children to another school. The federal funds under Title I are distributed to schools based on their number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, said Kathleen Wallis, Carroll's supervisor of Title I programs. The schools then provide targeted services to children who are academically behind, Wallis said.

Last year, North Carroll, Oklahoma Road and West middle schools failed to meet AYP in their special-education subgroups on the 2006 reading assessment. Sykesville Middle and Robert Moton Elementary did not meet that standard in the same subgroup in reading and math. The same was true in both subjects at East Middle and in reading for the English Language Learners subgroup.

With those results in hand last year, "there was a tremendous focus on individual student need in the areas of [the] MSA, and instruction was focused directly on those areas," said Jane Conner, director of special education.

Targeted and focused instruction also helped improve alternative MSA scores, she said, referring to the assessment designed for students with significant disabilities who follow an alternative curriculum focusing on life skills.

Robert Moton was the only Title I school that did not meet adequate yearly progress standards in 2006.

Principal Pam Meyers said many factors played into the "wonderful" outcome for Robert Moton this year.

"I credit a lot of the success to us collectively sharing the responsibility," Meyers said, referring to teachers. "At this school, there's a sense of shared responsibility in focusing on all of our kids."

Meyers said the staff developed grade-level "professional learning communities" and zeroed in on "really aligning our instruction to the curriculum and the assessment." The teams set monthly goals and discussed how to measure student success, she added.

"The response to the data that we got was more frequent and ongoing, as opposed to waiting many months," Meyers said.

Instructors would reteach concepts or target children for after-school tutoring sessions, she said. They also studied and talked about professional texts, drawing strategies and adjusting them to suit their students' needs.

Donald Pyles, director of middle schools, said he was proud of the teachers and principals who banded together to achieve "a pretty amazing feat."

He attributed that accomplishment, in part, to being able to break down assessment data so that teachers could explicitly see what their kids were missing, and develop programs to work with them. And while doing that, he added, they remained "student-centered, caring about kids."

Still, this year's achievement does not mean they will be resting on their laurels, Pyles said.

Ensuring student success, Pyles said, "is a constant challenge and a constant quest."

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