By Katie Dahlstrom
While only two of Clinton’s schools met a federal standard for proficiency in 2012, district officials are highlighting other successes as they look at more than just No Child Left Behind Act standards to define student achievement.
Adequate yearly progress is measured through the Iowa Assessments to determine how students are performing academically as part of the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act.
The tool measures students’ progress in math and reading at the elementary, middle and 11th grade levels. Those grades are further broken down into subgroups that reveal how lower socio-economic status, special education and different ethnic groups are doing.
If a school does not meet proficiency in the “all students” group or any one of the subgroups for two consecutive years, it is designated as a school in need of assistance.
The amount of students who need to be proficient in each subject increases each year with the standards now falling between 88 and 90 percent.
“The level of proficiency has gone up tremendously,” Clinton School District Superintendent Deb Olson said. “There are more and more expectations and the level of rigor has also increased tremendously. When you consider that we are trying to keep up and stay ahead and we are still working with our students and all the backgrounds they come from, we are looking more at personal growth.”
Eagle Heights and Whittier elementary schools met AYP goals in 2012, based on tests that were taken in November.
At Eagle Heights 85 percent of students were proficient in reading and 87 percent of students were proficient in math. Across town at Whittier, 85 percent of students were proficient in reading and 83 percent were proficient in math.
While the target for these subjects sits at 88 percent, several factors led to these two schools hitting AYP although they did not hit the 88 percent mark.
“The state of Iowa recognizes that people are making progress towards getting to the goal,” Clinton School District Curriculum Director John Jorgensen said.
A year ago, Eagle Heights was designated an in need of assistance school, but is now moving into safe harbor because of its improvements.
Schools designated in need of assistance that receive Title I funds are required to comply with NCLB sanctions, which include writing a plan, offering school choice and other items.
Clinton Washington and Lyons middle schools as well as Clinton High School did not meet AYP, but because these schools don’t receive Title I funding, they aren’t subject to government sanctions.
The district receives around $900,000 annually in Title I funding based on the portion of students who receive free and reduced lunch. Around 60 percent of Clinton students qualified for free and reduced lunch last year.
In Clinton’s middle schools, 59 percent of students were proficient in reading and 65 percent in math, more than 20 percent below the 88 percent target.
Of all Clinton High 11th-graders, 78 percent were proficient in reading and 80 percent were proficient in math in 2012, shy of the 90 percent target for both subjects.
The two schools that do get sanctioned in Clinton are Bluff and Jefferson elementary schools.
Bluff saw scores in the 85 to 86 percent range five to six years ago, but they have fallen to 82 percent in reading and 78 percent in math in the most recent year and therefore are not meeting the NCLB standard to improve. Bluff is classified as an in need of assistance level 4 school, meaning a special set of sanctions known as reorganization goes into effect.
School districts in other areas of the country with a level 4 in need of improvement school have gone as far as firing all staff and starting from scratch.
“They found out that was a devastating thing to do to a community and we have no intention of doing that,” Jorgensen said.
Instead, the district is looking into a program that would catch struggling students early on and forming an advisory council that can track the school’s monthly progress.
At Jefferson, 82 percent of students were proficient in reading while 75 were proficient in math. Last year, the school was in safe harbor based on test scores after being a level 3 in need of improvement school.
Because they did not meet AYP, they will be back on the in need of assistance list, but officials are unsure if it will be at level 3 or 4.
An area that school officials are proud of is the gap between scores from all students and those who qualify for the free and reduced lunch, which is sometimes only 1 percent in Clinton schools.
“Around the country that gap is usually 20 percent at the elementary and by the time they get to high school that gap is usually 30 percent or more. In Clinton, I’m really proud to say, the gap has shrunk to 5 percent at the elementary at the very most,” Jorgensen said. “You won’t hear very many school districts in our country anywhere accomplishing that.”
The largest gap was in reading at the high school level at 10 percent. All other grades and subjects had a 5 percent or smaller gap.
Beyond what the assessment scores suggest, Clinton students are growing by their individual standard, which the district prefers, officials said.
“We’re really looking to focus on student growth rather than a static score. AYP is only one test. It’s not the only indicator,” Olson said. “If things were not going well, I would be the first person on it, but we are looking at personal growth.”
The district aims to have every child grow at least one full academic year annually, a measurement AYP doesn’t take.
“We certainly take AYP very seriously, but we’re moving, frankly, candidly, away from that particular indicator. It’s an important indicator, but there is one we feel is more important and that’s the percentage of kids that have made their own personal annual growth goals,” Jorgensen said.