Arkadelphia Speaks: Miller on No Child Left Behind
Do you think that in Finland they identify bubble kids and keep them after school for extra test prep for the three weeks prior to the test?
By Bill Downs
About two weeks ago, I received a call from an Arkadelphia resident who asked me to check out the following concern: Arkadelphia High School - "A National School of Excellence" - is in its third year of being on the Arkansas Department of Education's "School Improvement" list. What this means is that the high school has not met the accountability requirements mandated by the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation. The caller wondered if any significant measures are being taken by the school to be removed from this list, and therefore avoid "more aggressive action" from the education department.
Such "action," according to the department's Web site, "may include options ranging from making changes in the school's management, making changes in staffing, or exercising more day-to-day involvement in implementing the school's improvement plan."
What follows is a report of a conversation I had on the Friday before Spring Break with Dr. Stan Miller, superintendent of the Arkadelphia Public School District. Incidentally, this is not Dr. Miller's first experience with NCLB challenges. In his previous position as superintendent of schools in Pearl, Miss., he was successful not only in meeting but surpassing "school improvement" standards.
It is important to understand that under the No Child Left Behind Act, as specified on the Web site, "federal law mandates that schools have to successfully meet adequate yearly progress (A.Y.P.) in categories or subgroups."
These subgroups, as specified in the Arkansas Department of Education's Web site, include 1) all students (male/female); 2) Caucasian students (male/female); 3) African-American students (male/female) 4) Hispanic students (male/female); 5) students who are limited English proficient (male/female); 6) economically disadvantaged students (male/female) and 7) students with disabilities (male/female).
Downs: Why is Arkadelphia High School on the Arkansas Department of Education's school-improvement list?
Miller: I knew when I arrived here in August 2006 that Arkadelphia High School was entering its third year of School Improvement. The philosophy of No Child Left Behind is outstanding in raising the bar and improving reading scores. The scary part, however, is that you could be in excellent shape in six of your seven subgroups, which is what happened at Arkadelphia High School. The only reason we are on "improvement" is because we did not do well in just one of our subgroups.
Each "subgroup" is made up of a minimum of 40. If you have 39 children in that school in Special Education, that's not a subgroup. If you do have 40, you have a subgroup. For example, we could have 40 Hispanic children who just arrived in our country and don't speak a word of English. Under N.C.L.B., after one year in this school district, they must take the standardized test.
Downs: In dealing with all these subgroups under No Child Left Behind, how are you handling what are obviously some very real challenges?
Miller: When I first came here, I looked at a school district in our state that is one of the prominent school districts. Actually, our scores are higher than their scores in some subgroups, but they didn't have the subgroups that we have.
With No Child Left Behind - and this is what makes what we're doing so challenging and exciting - we're dealing as educators in the public schools with every child. And every child has an individual I.E.P. - Individual Educational Program. Normally, that label applied only to special-education children. Now it applies to all our children. When we receive our scores in August from the year before, we line up our kids and we know what quartiles they're in: Advanced-the highest quartile; proficient, basic and below basic.
Downs: Have other schools besides the high school been placed on the school improvement list?
Miller: Yes. Peake was on school improvement but not for three years. The school is in a "holding year" right now, which means Peake has met the N.C.L.B. guidelines but must maintain the standards for two years. If we get a second year of "holding" for Peake, we'll have that school completely out of school improvement. Goza was in a "holding" year last year. We had one sub-group - just one, which put us back into School Improvement.
Downs: What steps are being taken to remove Arkadelphia High School from the school-improvement list?
Miller: What we are trying to do is to get 60 to 70 percent of our kids on "proficient" or "advanced." We're also trying to move "low-basic" to "basic," "basic" to "proficient." But the big group we're working on is getting that "basic" group into the "proficient" group. As administrators and teachers, when we get our children in class, we know the scores on every child. Then we start remediation, which we call our "pull-out" programs.
Downs: Please describe these "pull-out" programs.
Miller: "Pull-outs" are a way to provide double-help during the day. Sometimes we put college kids from Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University in the class. Other times we send in our paraprofessionals when the teacher may be doing something else. We don't do any "pull-outs" in the core classes - math, reading or writing. But a lot of times in our "baby classes," our younger children, we're sending people in and they're working with these kids. We're trying to give as much double-help as we can for these children.
We're also running our Saturday programs. Peake and Central, for example, are running 40 children on Saturday. We know what skills the students need. At Perritt, for example, we know we need to produce readers. If not, by the time they become third-graders, it isn't that they are only non-readers, they're also "non-mathers" because they can't read.
Downs: As we near the end of the 2006-07 academic year, how will the district use these last few weeks?
Miller: We're starting state benchmark testing on April 17. We have three weeks after we come back from the spring holidays. Now, in these last three weeks, we're going to be doing what I call the last "100-yard dash of a 400-meter run." We're going to focus on those "bubble" children, those who are sitting in "basic" that we may be able to push over the top. They're so close.
I had Central Primary give me the names of about 45 children. Peake Elementary gave me the same numbers. We're going to try to run buses after school. These kids will stay after school ends at 3 p.m. We'll have a little snack and a break, and at 3:15, we'll run another one-hour session. What are we dealing with? We're dealing with those areas that we know we need to improve to get these kids over the top.
Twice a year - in October and February - we have curriculum summits when teachers and administrators come together and we discuss our curriculum action plans as we move toward state testing. Every nine weeks, we have a principals' update session where the superintendent and the two assistant superintendents meet with the principals to discuss all aspects of the curriculum of their schools.
Downs: Getting back to Arkadelphia High School, what steps are being taken to remove the school from the improvement list?
Miller: In the high school, students are tested in three areas: algebra, geometry, and 11th-grade literacy. These are state-mandated areas that we are testing. Biology is coming online this year, which will be the fourth area for testing.
All year long, we have been watching these kids, pulling them out to provide additional help. We have a special sessions - what we used to call "study halls" - in which we pull these children and start dealing with weaknesses in algebra, geometry and literacy. The children just finished the state literacy test. We feel real good about it. We feel that looking at the results of our "chunk" tests (Hot Springs Institute) and the Northwest Educational Assessment (NWEA) scores, our children should do well.
Next week: Miller talks about his greatest concerns in meeting No Child Left Behind subgroup standards and the school-wide efforts being made to meet these standards. Questions? Concerns? Contact Bill Downs at 245-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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