‘Less than one student' prevents Blair from passing
Blair failed to meet minimum state passing requirements on a standardized English test last spring, according to data released by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) on Oct. 25. The administration's appeal of the preliminary scores on the test was unsuccessful, and Blair will consequently remain in a state-mandated improvement stage for failing schools.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), all schools are required to perform at set proficiency levels on state-administered math and reading tests each year. To meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a measure of a school's proficiency, each of a school's nine racial and special services subgroups must meet the same state-mandated minimum passing rate on the tests.
Last year, Blair students met proficiency levels on the Algebra High School Assessment (HSA) but fell just short of NCLB requirements for the English HSA in the special education subgroup. Blair missed AYP by the "mathematical equivalent of less than one student among the nearly 3,000 students enrolled at the school," according to an Oct. 25 memo from MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast.
Had one more special education student passed the English HSA, Blair would have been removed from the School Improvement list of failing schools. Blair was placed in this phase because of its failing performance in 2003 and 2004. Blair met AYP for the first time in 2005, and the upward trend was expected to continue. "We have traditionally done well in reading," Gainous said. Gainous was upset by the English HSA results. "It knocked the wind right out of me," he said. "It was a huge disappointment. We had staff in tears."
Now, Blair is the only MCPS high school remaining on the state list of schools that currently need improvement.
Appealing the decision
Prior to the finalized release of AYP status from the state, Blair had sent an appeal to the state to reconsider its English HSA results, which were announced in September. After a meeting with MCPS officials, four special education students were selected as candidates for appeal. In order to qualify, a student must have had an Individual Education Program (IEP) for at least five years, have received special instruction and accommodations in English and performed two grade levels or below the average reading proficiency, according to special education resource teacher Lisa Davisson.
Students fulfilling these criteria could then be eligible to take the modified Maryland High School Assessment, a new test that the MSDE is in the process of developing, according to MSDE spokesman Bill Reinhard.
Davisson met with parents of the selected students to get their permission to change the students' IEPs accordingly. "We discussed with the parents the possibility of taking the test, had it been available, and whether they would have approved," she said. The data collected supporting the qualifications of the four students who wanted to take the modified test were then submitted to the state for further consideration.
Gainous was unsure how the state would decide the appeal. He cited an example from last year, where one school in the county missed AYP by 12 students and won its appeal, but another school missed by only one student and lost its appeal. "You just don't know what's going to happen," he said.
Had the appeal been granted, the four students would have been eligible to take the modified test and their scores would not have been equated into Blair's performance for last year, meaning Blair would have qualified for removal from the improvement list.
Since the appeal was denied, Blair will remain on the state watch list and could be restructured by the state if it does not meet AYP for the next two years. Gainous views this long-term corrective action as a serious threat. "It brings a stigma and a negative connotation to the school," he said. He believes prospective students would reconsider attending Blair if it is known as a failing school.
The inclusion model
Plans have been made to prepare students for the upcoming tests this spring. This will be the first year in which special education sophomores taking the English HSA will be exposed to the inclusion model, which was implemented last year only for freshmen. In the inclusion model, students with learning disabilities have the benefit of a special education instructor teaching in collaboration with an English teacher in on-level English classes, according to English resource teacher Vickie Adamson. "Special education students had been self-contained in the past in small class sizes," Adamson said.
The move toward the inclusion model was made in compliance with the NCLB regulation that all teachers be certified. "Special education teachers were not always certified," Adamson said. "They might not have had the same level of expertise as English teachers."
Adamson plans to continue after-school sessions for students who need help but lamented the difficulty posed by the group format of these sessions, as opposed to individualized tutoring, and the low turnout rates last year. "It's hard to solve reading comprehension problems in a big group," she said. "We're still figuring out the best model to get kids to come."
Gainous believes that questions about the fairness of the NCLB do not excuse Blair's performance. "We know what the faults with it are, and we know what we have to overcome, but we didn't," he said. "We definitely have to do things differently."
An alternative to state restructuring
If Blair fails AYP for two more years and gets to the restructuring stage, the severity of the state's actions could possibly be lessened through county intervention. Unlike in Baltimore, where failing schools have been taken away from the county and converted into charter schools, MCPS could have a second chance by demonstrating that it will allocate sufficient resources and attention into the failing school to improve its performance. Gainous cited an instance where the state allowed MCPS to do this for an elementary school, which subsequently reversed its failing performance.
Kathy Jee. Kathy Jee is a junior in the Magnet Program and is excited to be a part of the wonderful Silver Chips staff. When not in school, she enjoys playing basketball and obsessing over "American Idol." She is looking forward to another stressful year of school... More »