11/29/04 — Wayne ordered to boost scores for 10th grade

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Wayne ordered to boost scores for 10th grade

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 29, 2004 2:00 PM

Scores on 10th-grade standardized tests have kept Wayne County public schools from making federal requirements for the second year in a row, forcing the school system to shore up reading and math skills in the high schools.

Last school year, 71 percent of school systems across the state made the federal benchmark called "adequate yearly progress."

Letters were sent out last week notifying all parents of students in Wayne County about the test results. The law requires that all parents receive the letter, even though it mainly affects 10th grade.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a school system that fails to make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row is required to be identified for improvement.

Meanwhile, the county schools have met state requirements. The letter said that under North Carolina ABC's Accountability Pro-gram, no schools in Wayne County were identified as low performing. The school system also met 90.2 percent of its target goals, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year.

One school official says the biggest problem is that the 10th-grade reading and math test, given every April, "doesn't mean anything to students."

"There is no grade; it's not connected to any course," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability. "Students weren't motivated."

Unlike the end-of-grade tests given to elementary and middle school students, 10th-graders do not take classes in reading and math. Instead, there are specialized classes such as algebra and literature.

"It's taken some restructuring to get reading and math instruction in when there's no course at the 10th-grade level," McFadden said.

Sometimes, he said, students do not even show up to take the test. That presents another problem, since 95 percent of students must take the test in order for the scores to count.

In 2002-2003, half of the local high schools -- Eastern Wayne, Goldsboro and Southern Wayne -- had fewer than 95 percent take the test, resulting in an automatic failure.

For 2003-2004, all six high schools had more than 95 percent take the test. Only half of those, however, scored well enough to make adequate yearly progress. Rosewood, Spring Creek and Eastern Wayne did; Southern Wayne, Goldsboro and Charles B. Aycock did not.

The letter to parents outlined two plans of attack for the school system.

First, the Title I plan must be revised. The deadline for that is Dec. 15. Title I is money that comes from the federal government for schools with a high percentage of students receiving subsidized lunch.

When the federal No Child Left Behind Act was introduced in 2001, it required all school districts receiving federal money to develop a plan. Its purpose was to describe what the school system would do to help low-achieving children meet academic standards.

Dr. Willette Wooten, director of federal programs for Wayne County public schools, said the local plan is updated annually. She said her office is seeking written comments and suggestions from parents and school staff of those in Title I schools.

Second, the school will focus on professional development of its instructional staff. In addition to district-wide staff development, Dr. Wooten said the other tier of the process will be done at individual schools.

Wayne County public schools are required to set aside and spend 10 percent of their federal money on professional development each year it is identified for improvement. No school budgets or programs will be sacrificed, though, Dr. Wooten said.

Likewise, the school system is assessing its curriculum policies.

Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for instruction, said there will be a three-prong approach to the problem with the comprehension tests.

"We're working with the English department heads in each high school," she said. "Reading will be immersed in all content areas to strengthen reading skills. Math chairs will be working on the same thing."

A student accountability policy was also passed by the Board of Education recently, making students responsible for taking and passing the test.

"If a student doesn't pass," Dr. McCullen said, "he has to have focused intervention. That may be tutoring or instruction on the computer, whatever the principal determines, in order for him to be promoted."

There has also been discussion about changing the test, she said. The state has petitioned the federal government to replace the current math comprehension test with the algebra I test, felt to be a better measure of math skills at that level.

Until a decision is made, students must be groomed for the end-of-grade test currently in place.

In order to remove the improvement status, Wayne County must make federal standards for two consecutive years, beginning with the current school year.