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Sanctions loom for 2

Newport and Pullman elementary schools will face sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law if students in one of five subgroups do not pass Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests in the spring.

Nine district schools are on the list for "not making adequate yearly progress," but only Newport and Pullman, if all subgroups don't pass spring tests, would have to offer parents the chance to have their children bused to other district schools at district expense, according to Rick Spicuzza, assistant superintendent and director of curriculum and assessment.

Subgroups include ethnic groups, students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, special education students and those not proficient in English.

The two schools are eligible for sanctions because they are the only two that receive federal money, under Title I, to help failing students. Schools qualify if more than 30 percent of students are receiving free and reduced-price lunches.

Newport is not on the Annual Yearly Progress list this year because all student groups passed tests. However, the school must stay off the list for two years to escape sanction, according to Spicuzza.

Spicuzza, at a school board workshop on Nov. 5, said the district is sending plans to the Minnesota Department of Education this month on what schools are doing to improve test scores.

Schools on the AYP list include:

- Cottage Grove Elementary for special education in math.

- Hillside Elementary for free and reduced price lunch students in math.

- Pine Hill Elementary for Hispanics in math, special education in math and reading, and free and reduced-price lunch in reading.

- Pullman Elementary School for all students in math, Hispanics in math, special education in math and reading and free and reduced-price lunch students in math.

- Royal Oaks for special education in reading.

- Woodbury Elementary for free and reduced price lunch in reading.

- Woodbury Junior High (now a middle school) for free and reduced price lunch students in reading.

- Alternative Learning Center for all students in math.

- Diploma Center for all students in math.

Schools not on the list that would face sanctions if students don't pass next spring include Park High School, Oltman and Cottage Grove middle schools and Newport Elementary.

The percentage of students needed to pass tests rises each year until 2014 when all students must pass.

More than half of districts across the state are on the list as not making adequate yearly progress, Spicuzza said.

As a district, he said, efforts to increase student achievement include grade-level reorganization, implementing high school classes that align with state standards for college readiness, elementary school world languages, physical fitness-based gym classes and flexible staffing to move teachers where students need the most help.

In-district computerized testing has been extended to second-graders, and first-graders are also being tested, but not on computers.

Pullman students getting extra help

Pullman teachers are not biting their nails and hoping the school's 400 kids will pass state tests in reading and math next spring.

Efforts have been in place for more than a year to boost achievement, according to principal Ed Ross.

A contributing factor to failing test scores is the percentage of children receiving free and reduced-price lunches, a federal measure of poverty, which is 37 percent and increasing, Ross said, and might be related to a down economy.

Spicuzza, also director of curriculum and assessment, said poverty is a contributing factor in students not doing well in school.

Marge Lindberg, achievement specialist, now works half time at Pullman and the remainder of the day at Newport. Formerly paid with district merit-pay state funding, Lindberg's job is being funded through federal stimulus money for special education, according to district Superintendent Mark Porter.

Her job is to coach and support teachers with strategies to improve achievement.

Ross met with 20 families attending a PTA meeting this fall to explain No Child Left Behind and why the school is listed as "not making adequate yearly progress."

"This is a good school," he said in an interview on Nov. 10. "Teachers are energized to help the kids."

Reading and math specialists are pulling students out from classes to work in small groups for additional help.

In-district computer tests, aligned with state tests, are given twice a year. Results are being used to focus on areas where students need help, Ross said.

Students in kindergarten through second grade are being targeted for intervention because it's important to intercept kids who are not achieving at an early age, Ross said.

Teachers meet twice a month to discuss strategies including how to re-teach students in small groups in and out of the classroom.

Students in grades three to five are getting help with reading comprehension through Reading Naturally, a computer program, Ross said.

Students who don't comprehend what they read are also hindered in math tests because questions are word problems.

Kids who are not achieving are easily discouraged, Ross said, so incentives are needed.

If students meet "growth" targets, they get into drawings for prizes. There is also, as was the case last year, a picnic at the end of the year.

"They need something to look forward to," Ross said.

Adults get incentives, too, with achievement linked with raises and bonuses.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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