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Results recently released showing Average Yearly Progress would suggest that the Los Alamos Public School District has a few things to work on, since only one school — Chamisa Elementary — met AYP this year.
However, the results of the LAPS Standard Based Assessment show something a little different and after a message sent by the Public Education Department Thursday night, school administrators aren’t exactly sure where the district stands.
At Thursday’s Los Alamos Board of Education work session, principals from Aspen, Barranca, Chamisa, Mountain and Piñon elementaries, as well as middle school principal Rex Kilburn and high school principal Sandy Warnock, met with LAPS administrators to discuss the assessment and share ideas on how to get each school to reach 100 percent proficiency in math and reading.
Toward the end of the discussion, LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt got a message on his cell phone from the PED, explaining that there were errors in some performance for reporting categories for SBA results. The PED recommended that the reports not be distributed to parents, but all the principals except for Kilburn, said the reports had already been circulated.
As a result of the error, the PED intends to distribute new reports, but asked school districts that had already distributed theirs to share the email with parents so they would know about the situation. There was no clear indication from the PED whether scores for the district would improve or decline as a result of the reporting errors.
At the beginning of the presentation by LAPS Assistant Superintendent Paula Dean, she explained that the district has hovered just above 80 percent proficiency for the past four years.
She said meeting 100 proficiency has become increasingly difficult because the Public Education Department changed the cut scores on the SBA this year, meaning this year’s scores and last year’s scores were not measured the same way. Dean said it’s possible to go higher, but something different needs to be done in order to achieve that proficiency. She said quite a few more Hispanic students scored better this year than last year, but there are still quite a few special education students that are not proficient in math and reading.
“This test is rigged because we follow federal law and we’re unable to show special ed as proficient,” Dean said. She also pointed out that of 232 11th graders who took the test, 36 were in special ed and only six were proficient, meaning more than 60 percent were not proficient.
“Of the six students, they had regular IEP (individualized education plan) meetings and teachers said they’re doing fine,” Dean said. She also said that four students were exited from the special ed program because of their progress.
“When a student gets special ed services, the law says to send them back to regular population, so it leaves kids who have very little chance of ever being proficient. Kids in lower grades don’t test as proficient and aren’t exited,” Dean said.
“The test is set up to where you have to fail,” said LAPS Board President Melanie McKinley. “If you can demonstrate with data that we’re set up to fail, it carries more weight,” she said, explaining that the data needs to be taken to State Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. “We don’t want any kids to get discouraged and drop out.”
Aspen Elementary Principal Kathryn Vandenkieboom said math is an area of growth for her school. All students at Aspen showed improvement in math for the 2010-2011 SBA, while Hispanic and special education students did not show improvement over the 2009-2010 school year.
“We look at children as people, not just test scores,” Vandenkieboom said. “They’re not just little computers in a little body. They’re learning all kinds of skills.
All Barranca Elementary students showed improvement in math and reading, though special ed students showed a decline in math proficiency this year compared to last. Barranca is also the only school to have met AYP this year.
Meanwhile, all of the students at Chamisa Elementary showed improvement in reading and math, but Caucasian students showed a decline in reading proficiency compared to last year.
“Reading is our challenge,” Principal Debbie Smith said, pointing out that numerous volunteers were used to help students with reading obstacles. “We had several intervention events on Wednesdays and used both IAs (instructional assistants) and supervised volunteers.”
All Mountain Elementary students also showed marked improvement in reading and math, though Hispanic students fell short in both categories compared to last year.
English learners also fell short in reading this year, but improved in math. Special ed students remained at the same level in reading as last year, but fell short of last year’s proficiency mark this year.
“I don’t care about these numbers,” Mountain Elementary Principal Gerry Washburn said. “Excellence is an everyday thing in everything we do … we celebrate every success.”
He said there’s no single answer for every school to increase proficiency, referring to finding a universal answer as using “answerology.”
At Piñon Elementary, all students fell short in both math and reading proficiency compared to last year. Caucasian, Hispanic, ELL (English Language Learners) and special ed students failed to meet last year’s proficiency level in reading, while Hispanic, ELL and special ed students struggled in math this year.
“We’re not doing anything different,” Piñon Principal Jill Gonzales said. “We started creating an RTI (response to intervention) form on every child that’s not proficient.”
Los Alamos Middle School students showed improvement in math, but fell short in reading this year. Caucasian, Hispanic, ELL and special ed students failed to meet last year’s proficiency levels in reading, while Caucasian and Hispanic students showed improvement in math. Asian, ELL and special ed students fell short of last year’s levels.
Recently appointed LAMS Principal Rex Kilburn said his staff is working on helping students become proficient in math.
“We took several math classes and slowed the pace down,” Kilburn said, explaining that this was done in hopes that the slower pace will help students grasp the math concepts and become proficient.
The 11th grade students that took the SBA fell short in both reading and math. Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian and special ed students all failed to meet last year’s reading proficiency level, while Hispanic and special ed students failed to meet the 2009-2010 math level.
“Is this the best they can do?” LAHS Principal Sandy Warnock asked, after reviewing the results. “Special ed is like when you’re at the dam, you put your finger in the hole (that’s leaking) and a leak pops somewhere else. I can’t explain why we did better in math than reading.”
McKinley asked Warnock, “Does your staff get frustrated, or do they think it’s a stupid test.”
“They think it’s a stupid test,” Warnock said. “Our kids continue to do well on the SAT and ACT and continue to get into college.”