After AYP progress failure, school makes plans to improve scores
The number "one-fifth" carries a lot of weight at Blair. After receiving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results in October last year, Blair found that the difference between a pass and fail for last spring's English High School Assessment (HSA) score was one-fifth of a student in the special education subgroup, based on the state of Maryland's calculations. Because the special education subgroup narrowly missed meeting the passing mark, the whole school failed to meet AYP for 2006. Now, Blair is making plans to pass the HSA in the future.
Special education department resource teacher Lisa Davisson said that the results were, "very disappointing for a lot of people, beyond just the school."
While Davisson says that there is no "magic cure" for the failure, she says that the department and school "have got some good plans for the students to do better." But Davisson says that the investments are for all students, not just the ones in special education. "If we only fix special education and we leave another cluster area and that cluster area doesn't do well, then we're still in a pinch," she says.
At the state's request, Blair was required to submit proposals for an intervention program that would target students struggling in Algebra and English or who failed the HSA in these subjects last spring. Since students in the Class of 2009 and younger now need to pass the HSA in order to graduate, students from these grades who did not pass retook them in January 2007. The program will also target students who are at risk of failing the HSA in May 2007.
English resource teacher Vickie Adamson says that for English, the proposal – which was submitted in October and scheduled an after-school intervention program beginning Nov. 9 – has not yet been funded by the state. But Blair's math department has received the funding necessary from money raised last year by Blair's recreation department and a county grant, and began its intervention program on Dec. 13, even though every subgroup passed the Algebra HSA according to math department resource teacher Rochelle Sherman. This year, the recreation department is raising money again but Blair did not receive a grant.
According to Sherman, the 67 students who failed the Algebra HSA last spring and need to pass in order to graduate continued to go to after-school academic programs every Wednesday and Thursday until the test date in January. Since January, students believed by their teachers to be at-risk of failing in May will begin coming in for a similar program until their test date.
According to Principal Phillip Gainous, past lunch-time, after-school and Saturday academic programs aimed at improving HSA scores will continue. Those programs have emphasized school-wide literacy since the 2004-2005 school year when too many students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department did not pass the HSAs. "[We're] trying to get everybody to read more and increase vocabulary with the Word of the Day," Gainous says. "Every teacher, whether it's P.E. or Chorus, every teacher can support the literacy program."
According to Gainous, students at Blair are in 37 different branches, including Special Education for Children with Disabilities (SPED) and ESOL, and the school must meet its AYP requirements for each branch. "Most of the SPED students are embedded in our regular program," says Gainous.
To encourage student participation in the HSAs, the math department has partnered up with the Blair Sports Academy (BSA) to offer rewards to students who attend the academy's HSA help program. According to recreation director Jose Segura, last year participating students did HSA practice for one hour after school two times a week. After practicing, the students were permitted to participate in the BSA's after-school recreation program.
Additionally, the BSA provided participants with an after-school snack and small rewards, including gift certificates to McDonalds and, according to Segura, at the culmination of the program "one of the awesome incentives was we took all the kids to Six Flags free of charge."
Despite Blair's failure to meet its AYP requirements, Segura maintains that the BSA's HSA help program was a helpful tool for students last year, citing Blair's excellence in the Algebra HSA – a 56 percent passing rate in Special Education students and a 66.5 percent passing rate in Regular Education students.
"We definitely have some high goals we want to accomplish," Segura says. "I think that this is program that's making a difference. [It's] not only providing an after school activity for kids, but providing good support, also."
Pass or Fail
For many students who took the HSA, the ultimate reward of preparing for them was passing. "The kids who passed last year came in and talked to the teachers," Sherman says. "They were so excited; they didn't think they were going to pass."
Junior Isadore Melton, who took the English and Algebra HSAs last year, said that the school prepared him well for the tests, which he passed, to his pleasant surprise. "I thought I was going to mess up on the Algebra one," he says.
Before attending the after-school programs, Melton says he consistently received Cs in English and Ds in Algebra. But after spending the better part of last year learning about and practicing good study skills, Melton says that his scores in his classes have increased. "I have a B in English," he says. "[The program] really helped a lot of people out."
While Gainous is pleased that Blair is close to meeting its AYP requirements, he believes that ensuring that students graduate is more important than ensuring that students pass HSAs to improve AYP results. Graduating requires proficiency in English and Algebra in addition to Biology and National, State and Local Government. "The school might make AYP but then we've got a student who failed and can't graduate," Gainous says, "The most important thing to me is that you graduated. The bonus is Blair making AYP."
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Gus Woods. William "Gus" Woods is a junior who enjoys, far more than anything else, tiddlywinks tournaments and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" re-runs. He is a great fan of any and all music and enjoys playing the piano in his spare time. He belongs, literally belongs, … More »