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Schools show steady improvement

Still only one local high school meets No Child Left Behind standards

Local school children are showing signs of slow, steady improvement, but many schools are still not meeting federal standards under No Child Left Behind.

Of this area's six high schools, only Corbett High met the state's 'annual yearly progress' (AYP) requirements.

The same is true at the middle-school level, where only two of East County's 10 middle schools - Damascus and Corbett - made AYP in the preliminary results, released Thursday, Aug. 3.

Consistent with the rest of Oregon, area elementary schools fared much better.

All of the elementary schools in the Reynolds School District, and all but one in the Gresham-Barlow district, met AYP in the most recent round of testing. Corbett Elementary, along with most of Centennial's elementary schools, also met AYP this year.

At the state level, 66 percent of schools, but only 28 percent of high schools, met the standard this year.

Under the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, all children must meet the AYP standards by 2014.

No Child Left Behind test results are broken into various sub-groups, including children with disabilities, English language learners, minority groups and impoverished students - something supporters of the law admire.

'Many educators applaud the law because they believe it may result in giving a wake-up call to schools that have, in effect, been resting on their laurels … that have not delivered for low-income students and English language learners,' says Susan Castillo, state superintendent of schools.

Others feel the law paints a black-and-white picture of schools. Critics point out that a school can show improvement on all levels - reading, writing, science and math - but still fail the AYP if one or two students with disabilities, for instance, don't meet the standards.

If there's one thing that area educators agree on, it is this: AYP, with it's black-and-white approach to education (did you pass or fail?) is only helpful when you dig deeper into individual test scores and look at progress over time.

'This is like an autopsy,' says Cheryl Williamson, director of curriculum and student learning for Centennial School District, glancing over the rows of 'met' and 'not met' in the AYP report. 'This is done. We can't affect the results now.'

Combine the report with some more in-depth graphs and testing results, however, and educators have something to work with.

'This is when we have a chance to step back and reflect on what seemed to work, on what we did right and also talk about those things that still puzzle us,' Williamson says. 'Then we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.'

Figuring out what works

- and what doesn't

Area administrators sat down with The Outlook on Friday, Aug. 4, to talk about what works, what doesn't, and what AYP tells them about their schools.

Here are some highlights from those conversations:

• In the Gresham-Barlow district, writing scores improved at 12 of the district's 19 schools and all but one of the elementary schools met AYP this year.

At North Gresham Grade School, the results were especially welcoming.

North Gresham was in the penalty phase of No Child Left Behind, having not met AYP for two consecutive years. Parents could opt to transfer their children to other schools in the district, but few had actually done so.

'We've had some tremendous improvement at North,' says Tim Drilling, director of student achievement for the Gresham-Barlow district. 'They had gains in four of their subgroups.'

Latino students posted the greatest gains at the elementary school, leaping from 32 percent meeting AYP in 2004-05, to 71 percent meeting this year.

North Gresham students with 'limited English proficiency,' economically disadvantaged students and children with disabilities also showed significant improvement.

North's principal, Tom Klansnic, attributed the gains to his staff. He says teachers started working closely with a full-time Title I teacher, who concentrated on improving students' reading skills, and the English language learner teacher.

'All the teachers were working together and with the specialists. Obviously, this made a huge difference,' Klansnic says.

Drilling said the district is working with its middle and high schools to help bring test scores up, particularly in the area of math.

'We're not pleased with the math scores,' Drilling said. 'There is a district math initiative already underway. We are reorganizing curriculum, and I believe that we will see improvement next year.'

Another piece of bad news for the district was that one of its elementary schools, East Gresham, barely missed making AYP (it missed by less than one-quarter of one percent) and, because it receives federal Title I funds, it will be required to offer transfers to other elementary schools in the district.

Drilling does not expect many parents to take advantage of the transfer option, but he says the district will explain all the options available to parents from East Gresham who want to remove their child from the school.

'East still showed some strong gains,' Drilling said. 'And the school offers a number of supplemental programs. I don't think we'll have a great response from parents wanting to transfer.'

• In the Reynolds School District, at least two school principals are celebrating after the recent round of preliminary AYP results.

Glenfair and Alder elementary schools are two of six in the state to get off the penalty list this year, having met AYP for two years in a row.

Andrea Watson, district spokeswoman, said both schools had different reasons for their gains, but pointed to Alder's all-day kindergarten program and increased instruction in core subjects, such as reading and writing, as possible reasons for the school's dramatic improvement.

Administrators in the Reynolds district said having continued, steady improvements is the most important thing for them.

'The focus is on continuous growth,' says Tony Mann, principal at Walt Morey Middle School. 'We'll hit the mark eventually. These kids are seeing some huge growth. Are they meeting AYP now? No. Will they? Yes.'

Other middle school principals agree with Mann. They say their schools, although not meeting federal AYP requirements, are not failing.

'I'm feeling optimistic,' says Yuki Monteith, principal at Reynolds Middle School. 'This type of change does take time, but we're seeing slow, steady improvement, which is what we want to see.'

The district has shown improvement in several sub-groups, including its ever-growing Latino student population.

Teachers in the district get additional training on how to better instruct English language learners - many of whom, Monteith says, are learning English as a third language, having learned a regional Mexican language and Spanish before trying to conquer English. Getting a low score on reading and writing doesn't necessarily mean a student is failing, Monteith says, it could just mean that they have to improve their English skills.

Carla Sosanya-Tellez, principal at Hauton B. Lee Middle School, summed up the recent AYP results like this:

'We were using best practices and targeting all of our students, so we're really disappointed to not make it this year,' Sosanya-Tellez says. 'What this really means, for me, is 'darn!' '

• Centennial schools are showing improvement - in fact a number of Centennial schools have a 20- to 40-percent improvement in sub-categories like reading, writing, math and science - but the middle school and high school do not meet AYP standards.

At the elementary level, there is better news. Harold Oliver Intermediate, which has never before made AYP met the standards this year.

'The staff at Harold Oliver pulled together and worked very hard,' says Cheryl Williamson, director of curriculum and student learning for Centennial School District.

In addition, the school hired four coaches for staff members, including two English language learner coaches, a math coach and a reading coach. Throughout the year, all teachers worked with these coaches to improve students' English, reading and math skills.

Williamson said some subgroups still need more help than others, especially the district's students with disabilities and those children with limited English proficiency.

In the past 13 years, the number of English language learners in Centennial has increased from 103 to more than 1,100. Williamson says the district is adjusting to the demographic changes, but that, like Reynolds, improvements in test scores are going to be gradual.

'We're very pleased with the growth at a number of our buildings,' Williamson says. 'We already have such an incredibly dedicated staff. We don't have to work harder, we just have to work smarter.'