ESOL, Special Ed. need to improve
Blair may face restructuring if a minimal percentage of students do not pass the math and reading standards on the upcoming Maryland State Assessments (MSAs) on Feb. 25 and 26, which raises the stakes for staff and students, according to Principal Phillip Gainous.
Unlike the High School Assessments, which are necessary for individual students' graduation, MSAs test the whole school on geometry and reading. The MSAs are part of the state's effort to comply with federal legislation known as the No Child Left Behind Act, which places higher stakes on school accountability through testing.
With the days to prepare for the tests dwindling and after learning of last year's poor performance, administrators and teachers are pushing to prepare all students by incorporating key words and prototype questions into daily lesson plans, Assistant Principal Rich Wilson said. "We want everyone to do something up until the final day," he said.
After failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in two out of 38 targeted areas in 2003, Blair will be placed on an "improvement watch list" if the school falls short of standards within the special needs and ESOL subgroups next year, Gainous said.
According to Jim Foran, director of High School and Postsecondary Initiatives for the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), penalties for not bringing up MSA scores in these failing areas will become increasingly severe. Without improvement, Blair students would be allowed to transfer out of the "failing" school by 2006, and a state-run restructuring program would be implemented in 2009.
If Blair continues to not meet all areas, there could be serious consequences, such as restructuring by the federal government, according to Wilson. "When you're threatened with a foreign body taking over your school, it's quite significant. There's that sense of urgency. We'll lose control of our school," he said.
Blair must meet the state-mandated pass rate for all 38 target areas in reading and math, achieve 95 percent test participation and have a 90 percent graduation rate in order to be deemed on standard, said Gainous.
With a target proficiency of 42.9 percent for target areas, Blair fell short with 15.52 and 10.42 percentages in the Special Education and Limited English Proficiency groups, respectively. According to Gainous, expectations for special needs students and newly-arrived immigrants are unreasonable and have caused apprehension among staff.
Gainous is also concerned with the high expectations and a lack of specific guidance from the state as standards continue to rise every year with a different and new sophomore class. "We don't get feedback where we did poorly. We can't look at it and try to improve a certain part of the test. Every year we test a new group, and each time we take the test, the standards go up," he said.
In an effort to boost scores in sub-par areas, teachers and students have teamed up to help tutor students, said science teacher Ralph Bunday, who is working with school clubs IMPACT and Diversity Workshop to prepare students for the upcoming MSAs.
Gainous is concerned that students and teachers are not taking the MSAs seriously, but he said taking the time is worthwhile. "Some folks say these are taking away from their instruction. But it is going to help everyone in vocabulary, reading and writing," he said.
Staff members also worry about the lack of funding for preparation as part of the challenge in meeting federal standards, Bunday said. "[The government] wants answers out of schools, but they don't want to pay for them," he said.
Elena Chung. After several failed attempts to start a school newspaper in elementary school, Elena Chung, a senior, has finally fulfilled a lifelong goal to write for a paper. When she's not hunting down sources or finishing loads of work, she enjoys taking photos, cooking, reading, watching … More »