Administration implements new exam preparation to meet federal education standards
After Blair's failure to meet certain categories of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act based on last school year's Maryland School Assessments (MSA) scores, academic departments have begun to institute programs and strategies to improve this year's results, according to Blair administration.
Blair met AYP in all 37 target categories, which include eight subgroups in the reading and mathematics tests last year, except in the category of Hispanic students in the Geometry exam. Only 15.8 percent of the Hispanic students performed at the proficient level (AYP levels are organized into basic, proficient and advanced), which is below the 18.9 percent requirement, according to Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) reports. To improve student body performance next school year, Blair administration has made each department responsible for creating strategies and programs for improvement, according to Assistant Principal Linda Wolf.
Wolf explained that there is a greater need now to prepare students for the MSA because of the pressures of meeting AYP. The upcoming requirement — beginning with the class of 2009 — that students must pass the High School Assessment (HSA) to receive their diplomas, is forcing teachers to prepare students for not only the MSA but also the HSA, so all of the strategies are geared towards both tests in May. "There is more of an urgency behind it because it's getting closer and closer," said Wolf.
Preparing for the tests
The math and English departments are preparing students by integrating test objectives into the everyday curriculum and making students familiar with the assessments. According to math resource teacher Rochelle Sherman, teachers have started assigning HSA warm-ups and creating tests in the HSA format.
Teachers are also in the process of becoming familiar with the tests through staff development days. Sherman said that most of these changes are a direct result of AYP guidelines and have been implemented to ensure that all students maintain proficiency next year. "There is a lot of pressure for the whole school. We never had this kind of thrust before, not this kind of intensity and group effort," she said.
In the English department, teachers are trying to "mirror" items on the reading MSA, said English resource teacher Vickie Adamson. By implementing various reading comprehension techniques through timed writings, read-alouds and a think-pair-share system (a technique to analyze reading passages), teachers hope to enhance their students' ability to actively demonstrate the practice of reading.
Adamson explained that different students are poor readers for different reasons, so the department is trying to assess where the deficits are to make sure that it addresses each student's needs. During their planning periods, some teachers are writing referrals to individually pull out students to concentrate on their specific weaknesses, she said.
Sophomore Bao Nguyen, who is preparing to take the Biology and Government HSAs, thinks that the strategies are a "waste of time" because teachers are just cramming information for the test, and she is not truly learning the material. However, sophomore Ashley Zaldivar said that review packets containing actual test questions are making her familiar with the types of questions she will see on the HSA.
Zaldivar also realizes the importance of the results for Blair. "If we don't do good, the state could take over the school, so I do care about [the tests]," she said.
Since the upcoming HSAs will not play a big role in some students' futures, many lack motivation. "I'll try to do my best, but I won't take it as seriously as my finals," she said.
To fulfill the requirements of NCLB, the MSDE has instated new accountability measures based on each school's performance on the MSA, which was first introduced in March 2003. Since this is the first year Blair has failed to meet AYP levels, in three months it must create a school improvement plan that will be submitted to the local school system for review, according to the MSDE.
If Blair is unable to meet AYP after the first year, it will stay in "need of improvement" for a second year. Subsequent years of failing to meet standards will cause the local school system to impose changes, which can include replacing staff members who are responsible for the poor performances and implementing a new curriculum. Eventually, the school can be taken over by the state and be transformed into a charter school.
A "tremendous disadvantage"
The English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and Special Education departments are the most concerned about their students' performances because they are held to the same standards by the state as the rest of the student body. Blair ESOL students met AYP last year due to a "safe harbor," which allows a school to make AYP if certain other criteria are achieved such as decreasing the level of underachieving students in the particular subgroup by 10 percent in the proficient level.
ESOL students in Maryland are at a "tremendous disadvantage" because Maryland did not create a
separate exam for ESOL students; much of the material covered in the HSA is too advanced for ESOL students according to ESOL Resource teacher Joseph Bellino. Out of the 59 ESOL students who took the English Nine HSA last year, only one passed, said Bellino.
Special Education students are at a high risk of not graduating with the upcoming guidelines, according to Special Education Director Lisa Davisson. She said that many of the students placed in Special Education have disabilities in math and reading, and now their futures depend on tests in the same areas. The students will receive test accommodations like computers or aides so they can dictate their answers or have questions read to them.
The Special Education department has implemented numerous plans to help students. Teachers are reviewing Brief Constructed Response skill verbs (words that frequently appear on the tests), creating graphic organizers and assigning writing and vocabulary practices. Since Blair has the highest number of Special Education students in MCPS, Davisson wants to ensure that Special Education does not put the school at a disadvantage. "I don't want Blair to not do well because it has students with disabilities," she said.
The state's goal was to make the HSA a graduation requirement, but their idea was to "phase it in" so that students could become accustomed to the testing procedure, according to MCPS Coordinator for Student Assessment Daniel Corcoran.
Kristi Chakrabarti. Kristi Chakrabarti is finally a Magnet senior who is obsessed with basketball and is a die-hard Wizards fan. When she is not religiously following the NBA, she enjoys playing tennis and reading. Her favorite TV shows are Friends and ER and her favorite food is … More »