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Nov. 14, 2005

Blair makes AYP

by Varun Gulati, Page Editor
Blair met the state Annual Measurable Objective (AMO) for reading and satisfied the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement for the 2005 school year, Principal Phillip Gainous announced today during first period.

After failing to meet the geometry AMO and make AYP for two years in a row, Blair met all AMOs for the 2004-2005 school year. If Blair maintains AYP next year, it can exit its "School Improvement Year 1" status.

To satisfy AYP, established through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, each Maryland school is required to meet AMOs measured by Maryland School Assessments (MSA) annualy by satisfying 37 standards in all racial and socio-economic subgroups. A school not achieving all of the AMOs in the same reported area for two years in a row enters "School Improvement Year 1." Each year thereafter that the school does not meet the AMOs for the failed areas, the school progresses to a higher level of School Improvement: "School Improvement Year 2," "Corrective Action" and "Restructuring," which may include the replacement of school staff and the takeover of school operations by the state government. A school exits School Improvement if it achieves all AMOs for two consecutive years.

Blair teachers and Gainous were expecting to meet AYP; it was the mathematics section, which the staff already knew Blair had passed for this year, which had troubled the school throughout previous years. "We had a little celebration earlier," Gainous said. "We were confident and had our fingers and toes crossed." The staff and administration were only waiting for the reading scores, which were delayed because the cut-off, or passing, scores were being reassessed by the state.

Gainous stressed that AYP was met only because the entire school - staff and students - had made a collaborative effort. "They did it for us," he said. "They didn't have to." In a way of saying "thanks" to the students, Gainous distributed tickets to first period teachers entitling each student to a free smoothie during lunch. For the teachers, he sent vegetable trays and cakes to each departmental office.

With AYP lasting until 2014, Gainous feels that teachers are going to be under more pressure to meet both AYP and graduation requirements for the state. Getting the students to put in an extra effort will also be a top priority, according to Gainous. "It doesn't matter how hard teachers work, unless students invest their effort in this thing," he said. Meeting AYP this year was a relief to Gainous and a signal that the teachers were moving in the right direction. "I feel really good to be able to say to the teachers, 'Hey, good job!'" he said.

Graduation requirements worry Gainous more than AYP standards. Starting with the class of 2009, each student must pass the algebra, reading and biology MSAs to graduate or pass two and earn a cumulative score higher than a set cut-off. "This is not just going to be, 'Did we meet AYP?'" he said. "The most important thing to me is, 'Can they graduate?'"

While Gainous acknowledged that MSAs as graduation requirements will pose a problem, he pointed out that an even bigger problem will arise for students who are not accustomed to taking these tests. "The most difficult population for us will probably be the ESOL students," he said. "They have to take tests, held at the same standards as everyone else."

Gainous also acknowledged that the MSA is a difficult, obscure test. Last year, principals gathered at a meeting and were introduced to the test and given sample questions. "I couldn't figure out what the question was - what it was asking," he said. "If I can't decipher this, my English language students don't stand a chance." The state took Gainous' comments into consideration, but he believes the test will still pose problems. "It really worries me that when we go down the line, we'll come up with students who aren't able to meet requirements," said Gainous.

Still, AYP has encouraged Blair to expand beyond the required county curriculum. "All of us have learned one thing: not to rely solely on teaching the curriculum," said Gainous. Previously, employing the Montgomery County curriculum was sufficient. The state now provides an "optional" curriculum - which, Gainous pointed out, is not optional in reality as it forms the basis for the MSA tests. The departments at Blair have tweaked the curriculums repeatedly to meet county requirements as well as to allow for instruction of material on the MSAs. Additionally, Blair has implemented new strategies, such as requiring writing assignments and providing a "word of the day" to improve literacy.

Improving MSA scores is another obstacle teachers have to overcome, said Gainous. This year, AMO was met if 40.7 percent of students were deemed "proficient." Next year, the percentage will increase to 47.3 percent and will continue to grow every year thereafter until 2014, when the proficiency requirement will be 100 percent. "In most areas, such as English, we didn't have a lot that we needed to improve on; math is the area we were most concerned about," said Gainous.

Overall, Gainous feels that NCLB is "another pressure cooker for the teachers." Maryland opted to comply with the act in order to receive the federal funding that would come along with it. "The idea is good; it's the implementation that is so uneven and unfair in a lot of areas," said Gainous.

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  • Anarchist on November 15, 2005 at 9:52 AM
    Whoa, whoa, whoa. So the PRINCIPAL of the school can't pass these tests? How is he the principal, then?
  • yay on November 15, 2005 at 10:21 AM
    good job varun =) hmmmmm =P
  • ramita on November 15, 2005 at 6:52 PM
    nice story varun =D
  • smoothie on November 16, 2005 at 7:11 PM
    thanks for the smoothies mr gainous!! mm mmm
  • Renee on November 19, 2005 at 12:18 PM
    Yay! *cheers* Finally, after 2 years of reporting bad news about the MSAs, Blair gets some good news...
  • Anonymous on November 19, 2005 at 12:36 PM
    How hard is it to understand that just because kids are passing tests and meeting NCLB standards, it doesn't mean these kids are actually learning more. It's not like these kids actually learned anything else this year from past years. There was just a bigger emphasis on taking the tests. So this year we spent more time on the test, thus less time in the classroom, thus learning less about what we're supposed to be learning (we're not going to high school to learn how to pass tests) and yet we're considered better? Right.
  • sco lover <33 on November 20, 2005 at 7:58 PM
    YES the system is flawed. YES there are problems. YES it's not perfect.

    But here is my challenge to you:

    Come up with something better.

    The bottom line is that until someone comes up with some new way to assess whether or not students can read, write, and do math competently, standardized testing is the only way to do it.

    So please, before you talk any more about how awful standardized testing is, come up with an alternative.
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