Reading scores to determine whether Blair meets AYP
Blair math scores on state standardized tests last spring fulfilled passing requirements for the first time in three years. If reading scores follow suit, Blair may be removed from a Maryland testing watch list.
Blair has failed to meet state standards for the past two years and consequently entered the first step of the state-mandated improvement process for failing schools last year. The passing math scores bring Blair one step closer to reversing its failing trend, according to Principal Phillip Gainous.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires schools to annually meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a measure of improvement and proficiency in math and reading. Each of the 37 racial and special service subgroups determined by the state must achieve annual objectives on the math and reading Maryland School Assessments (MSAs) for the school to meet AYP. Blair satisfied the 2005 math standards of 40.7 percent proficiency for all of these groups on the Geometry MSA. Next year, the minimum standard will increase to 47.3 percent.
Hispanic males, the one group that did not meet the math standards during the 2003-2004 school year and prevented Blair from making AYP, were 48.4 percent proficient, more than three times the previous year's performance of 15.8 percent. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students also made a similar improvement with 45.5 percent proficiency, up from 15.2 percent. Blair's overall passing rate was 54.9 percent, according to the 2005 Maryland Report Card.
The Maryland State Department of Education is still setting the standards for the reading MSA, which was given to sophomores for the first time last year. Scores should be released around November, according to department spokesman Bill Reinhard.
Schools that continually miss AYP will ultimately be faced with restructuring by the state after five years, during which time the state could replace all staff, privatize the school with a contractor or turn it into a charter school. With each year Blair does not make AYP, restructuring becomes an increasing threat.
Redemption for Blair
Gainous remains optimistic that Blair's performance on the reading MSA could avert this stage. "Restructuring is out of the picture for six years or so, assuming that we make [AYP] for two years," said Gainous. "I've got all my fingers and toes crossed."
If Blair fails to make AYP for the third straight time, it will remain on the watch list and could advance to Corrective Action, the next stage in the improvement process.
In the meantime, the higher math scores have helped to improve Blair's image throughout the country. "Blair was famous in the U.S. for being a failing school," explained ESOL resource teacher and data manager Joseph Bellino. The discrepancy between MSA scores and successful Blair math and science programs contributed to this exposure, according to Bellino. "[Now], pressure is off," he said. "We can breathe easier."
A team effort
The collaboration between students and teachers last year made the difference in the math scores, according to Gainous. "There was a lot of effort explaining to students that their scores counted for the school and that we needed them to do their best, and they responded," he said. "In the past, I don't think we did as good a job explaining."
The math department prepared extensively for the Geometry MSA. Geometry teachers had several staff development days with MCPS specialists to focus on student needs. During each Geometry class, students were given past test questions as warm-ups. Teachers also provided academic support for students during lunch and after school from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., which attracted large crowds. "In the afternoon, we must have had 40 to 50 people, a full house. We went through boxes of Capri Suns and granola bars," said math resource teacher Rochelle Sherman. Teachers from other departments and students from AP Calculus classes offered their help at the tutoring sessions as well.
Sherman credits the teachers and administrators for creating a sense of urgency for the students, while providing a constant amount of support. "There was a good relationship between students and teachers. [The students] started to feel a sense of responsibility," she said. "They gave more than 100 percent effort."
The Blair Sports Academy (BSA) was also involved in the school-wide effort to increase MSA scores. BSA Director Jose Segura required indoor soccer players who were failing their Geometry classes to attend academic support at least once a week.
Segura was not surprised at the math scores. "We put a lot into it. The kids bought into it, and they scored well. They were capable of doing it; it was just a matter of convincing them," he said.
Many of the soccer players were Hispanic or ESOL students. According to Bellino, Blair missed AYP during the 2003-2004 school year because of 15 Hispanic students' scores on the Geometry MSA. "Who knows? Maybe it was the sports academy that made the difference," he said.
Plans for this year
The administration plans to continue last year's approach to the MSAs for the students taking the tests this year. "We're going to do similar things, talk to the students and other schools to try to make it this year," said Gainous.
Instead of the Geometry MSA, the Maryland State Department of Education has decided to use the Algebra High School Assessment to measure AYP this year, according to Reinhard. Although only 34 percent of students passed the test last year, Gainous has been reassured by the actions taken by the math department. "As soon as that decision was made, they were already changing their approach to algebra," he said. "A lot of schools, in fact, were modeling our program."
Each year gets more difficult as the standards increase towards NCLB's overall goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014. "We don't have any more wiggle room," Gainous said.
Looking back, Gainous was pleased with the amount of effort put forth by the students last year. "The kids really came through," he said. "I'm really proud of the students."
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 »