By Tim Linscott
It is far off from happening and measures are already in the works to correct issues with the Nebraka State Accountability (NeSA), but the absolute worst-case scenario for Perkins County Schools would be a district run by the state and federal government.
Federal law under the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ dictates that 100 percent of all students in a school district be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Districts are given an Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report to help guide districts to meet goals each year to achieve that 100 percent mark. If a district does not meet the AYP marks for two consecutive years in the same grade level, there are several consequences in store for the district from the government, including a potential loss of Title I funding.
Perkins County Schools is a Title I district.
A worst-case scenario for schools is that the government can come in and take control of the school, hire/fire staff and set curriculum. The school district would be in the hands of the state with no local control.
Districts receive grant money to improve the scores and if improvement does not progress, the district then moves to the level of making choices such as closing the school, making it a charter school, fire staff or make other drastic changes.
PCS is not near that level, however, staying vigilant is important to Nicole Long, curriculum and assessment coordinator for the district.
Reading and math in the elementary and middle schools at PCS are of particular areas of concern for Long and district officials. The district did not make AYP standards for reading and math in the elementary and middle school. This is the second consecutive year the district has not met those measures in the middle school.
PCS is now on a ‘Needs Improvement’ list and will have to draft an improvement plan.
Strategies and plans have been put in place by the district to shore up needed areas of improvement.
Long explained that ‘the further down the process you go, the more you lose say in how you run your district.’
Some of the strategies the district is employing include joining an online testing bank, which was done last year. The bank was developed by the Nebraska Department of Education. Schools submit questions in the areas of reading, math and science and those questions are then aligned to state standards. The state tests are developed from the state standards.
Teachers can build specific tests, and test students on the standards. State tests are done via online now instead of with pencil and paper.
“The district is really encouraging teachers to utilize that system pretty heavily before the testing season,” Long said. “We want our students to go into the testing season feeling very comfortable using that format of a test, and comfortable using the computers and navigating the online testing situation comfortably.”
A ‘Table of Specifications’ is provided by the state to each district, telling the district which standards will be used on the state tests. In order to help students do better on the state tests, PCS is adjusting its curriculum to be more in-tune with state tests.
“We are working to align our curriculum to those ‘Tables of Specifications.’ If you want to call it teaching to the test, that is basically what it has come to,” Long said. “There is really no way to avoid it anymore. We are focusing our curriculum a little more on what has to be taught to get ready for those tests.”
What it comes down to for Long is knowing what is coming up for standards and teaching that to the students to be successful in meeting ‘No Child Left Behind’ standards.
“We have to provide as much practice to the students as we can before it comes to that testing time,” Long said of getting ready for the testing.
There are specific populations of students that the district will work on helping, which should help bring up necessary scores.
“There are some areas we are shining in,” Long said. “I feel reading and math will always be the tough area to get everyone to the mastery level.”
Long feels that the district is like many in Nebraska and across the United States, dealing with the ramifications of ‘No Child Left Behind.’
“I don’t feel like we are in a unique situation in the state or in the nation,” Long said. “I feel like the expectations set by ‘No Child Left Behind,’ are somewhat unrealistic. However, what it comes down to is we are accountable,” Long said. “We just can’t check off on being on this list.”
Getting scores up and getting the district on course will take a group effort, Long explained. Not only does the entire school district have to move in a unilateral direction to achieve the goal, but parents and community members also have to help.
“The students, families and community are realizing that the state tests are important and we have no way around it,” Long said. “There is no way to avoid it. It is not only the responsibility of the school, but it comes to a point where our students and our parents and our community are going to have to realize how accountable our school is, and help in any way we can.”
Measures on a community and parent level have already begun. A Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) is in the works and a backpack food program is being established (Editor’s Note: Look in future issues of the Tribune Sentinel for more information and how to get involved in both of these projects).
On a high note, the district, as a whole, ranked 45th out of 228 in the state with 84 percent meeting or exceeding state standards. The elementary writing scores were ranked 77th in the state and 89th in elementary science and 87th in high school science. In math, the district went from 54 percent proficient to 71 percent in a single year. Over 90 percent of all students are proficient in reading in fifth grade, and 90 percent of the eighth grade is proficient in writing.
An issue Long sees that may be hindering motivation for students is a lack of ‘instant gratification’ on the tests.
Testing is done in the spring and the results are not known until the fall.
“They see nothing until the fall. How do you motivate them and hold them accountable when it is something so far removed?” Long asked. “We are held so accountable for something that is difficult to fix, which is the frustrating part.”
Any patron or parent with questions can contact Long at the elementary at 352-4313. The 2012-2013 State of the Schools report is at the state department of education website at http://reportcard.education.ne.gov.