Cape Gazette

School academic scores drop across the state

By Leah Hoenen | Aug 11, 2010
Once state test scores are in, state officials review data and issue each school a rating, holding schools accountable for student achievement. State regulations changed the way special education students took this year’s test, and because more special education students’ scores counted toward ratings, many schools across the state saw their ratings fall this year.

Still, two Cape Henlopen elementary schools excelled. Milton Elementary School, under academic review last year, is rated superior this year, as is Shields Elementary School. H.O. Brittingham Elementary maintained its commendable rating, while Rehoboth Elementary slipped from superior to academic review. The Sussex Consortium is rated commendable this year, having been rated superior last year.

The district’s middle and high schools did not fare as well. Beacon Middle School is under improvement this year, and Mariner Middle School slipped from commendable to academic review.

Beacon’s lower scores are directly related to the way special education scores were counted; Mariner’s scores for special education also dropped, but in addition, the school’s low socioeconomic group did not meet federal targets in math.

The high school will come under more state control for its trend of poor accountability ratings. Cape Henlopen School District accountability supervisor Robert Fulton said changes in the way state tests were administered to special education students is part of the reason for lower ratings across the state. “The scores are what they are. The way the test was administered had an effect on everyone for overall results and for accountability as well,” he said.

The Department of Education reported 20 percent fewer superior schools statewide and 50 percent fewer commendable schools than last school year. Superior and commendable are the highest school accountability ratings. At the same time, the number of schools with the lowest ratings – academic review and academic progress – increased.

Special education changes

This year, Delaware sharply curtailed the use of a read-aloud provision by which special education students could have portions of their state tests read to them. Previously, scores of students whose tests were read out loud to them did not count toward a school’s total score. But, this year, the scores of those students who had previously been read to counted toward the school’s overall score.

All students, including special education students, are expected to meet targets, Fulton said. “If one group doesn’t meet a target, the whole school misses the standard, if there are at least 40 students in that subgroup,” he said. Subgroups include special education, low income and racial groups.

He praised H.O. Brittingham staff, saying the school has five student cells that each had to meet standards in English and math.

Most schools struggled to meet standards for their special education students, Fulton said. “We had other areas of weakness, as well, but special education was the most prevalent with the most difficulty meeting the standards,” he said.

Rising standards

In the 2009-10 school year, federal law required 79 percent of students as a whole and in each subgroup meet English standards and 67 percent meet math standards. Next year, those requirements jump to 84 percent in English and 75 percent in math. In 2014 all students must meet the standards.

Beacon Middle School was rated superior last year. This year it is under improvement because only 73 percent of special education students met the English standards and only 56 percent of special education students met the math requirements.

Mariner Middle School is rated lower, on academic review this year. There, 62 percent of special education students met English standards and 51 percent of special education students met math standards. Sixty-five percent of the school’s low socioeconomic students met the math standard, missing the federal standard by just two percentage points.

The high school failed to meet targets for African-American and low socioeconomic students, Fulton said. Cape Henlopen High School is in academic watch and restructuring under an improvement plan, said Fulton. He said the longer a school is on academic watch, the more authority is put in the hands of the state and the district, not just the school.

“The state will be more involved with the high school, developing and approving our plans for improvement. Throughout the year, they’ll check up on the plan and how it’s being implemented,” he said.

Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery said the clock is ticking on Delaware schools. Lowery said Race to the Top money will help Delaware schools make aggressive reforms. She said the department will rigorously review improvement plans from all state school districts, which are required for them to receive a cut of the funding. Accountability ratings are based on state testing results and are required by the 2001 federal law No Child Left Behind. Accountability is measured by the number of students in each of nine subgroups who meet standards.

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