9/22/15 ABSS sees small boost in assessment scores

ABSS sees small boost in assessment scores
End of Year, End of Grade scores rise to 49.9 percent
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 9/22/15  
Reprinted with permission.      

   The county can be pleased with the Alamance-Burlington School System’s performance last year, according to staff, though there is room for improvement and some confusing numbers.

   While pleased with growth, school board member Patsy Simpson said she was not satisfied with not having solutions to persistent problems, and seemed to want to be more involved in the details of finding those solutions.

   “I’m just hoping the presentation will change a little to talk about ‘What are we going to do to raise student achievement?’” Simpson said. “I think it’s very important that the board be more involved with the staff in knowing specific initiatives that we’re doing in order to raise student achievement.”

   In a presentation to the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education, Director of Research, Accountability and Evaluation Steve Achey said the district had slight improvement in performance with the percentage of students who passed all their End of Grade and End of Year assessments going from 49.3 percent to 49.9 percent from 2014 to 2015.

   The Education Value-Added Assessment System, the state’s growth measure, sets targets for growth in test performance based on estimates of student achievement. ABSS did well, Achey said, with six schools falling short of their targets, compared to 12 in 2014, 15 meeting growth targets and 12 exceeding targets, compared to three in 2014.

   While that was good news, Superintendent Bill Harrison said, it was not where the district wanted to be.

   “We need to do better than that. … We have plans in place,” Harrison said pointing to everything from school-improvement plans to the system’s strategic plan.

   WHERE ABSS DID not look as good was on the federal Annual Measurable Outcomes, which replaced the targets set in No Child Left Behind.

   The AMOs look at how different groups of students — including racial minorities, economically disadvantaged, disabled and limited English kids — perform, and sets two targets for each. ABSS had 176 of those targets and met 57.4 percent of them, Achey said.

   “It’s about being sure you’re accountable not just for all of your kids,” but also for individual groups, Achey said. “It’s not a good tool for comparing school to school, district to district. Proficiency is a better tool.”

   In many cases AMOs can be deceiving because they are very complicated. Targets were set in 2013 and get higher every year until schools cut the number of students in each subgroup falling short of proficient in half by 2018.

   “So if half the kids were proficient, in the end you’d expect three-quarters to be proficient,” Achey said. “So the gaps reduce over time, and that’s the goal.”

   One example of AMOs being misleading, Achey said, was the graduation rate. While ABSS had an 82 percent graduation rate in 2015, the AMO graduation targets it hit actually fell 12 percentage points in 2015 because each subgroup has to have an 80 percent graduation rate or improve 2 percent per year.

   Some subgroups that did not make it to 80 percent graduation in 2014 did have 2 percent improvement, so the district met 100 percent of its AMOs in graduation. That did not happen in 2015, so ABSS only met 78 percent of its AMO targets.

   “If you looked at these AMOs, you would think our graduation rate went down because we met fewer of our AMOs on graduation, but that’s not what happened,” Achey said.

   The district also missed more of its AMO targets in 10th-grade reading scores, hitting only 39 percent of those targets, compared to 56 percent in 2014.

   THERE ARE A lot of reasons the district falls short of those targets, Harrison said.

   “You have a child who is multiracial, who’s economically disadvantaged, with limited English, and has a disability. That child counts for us six times on that chart,” Harrison said.

   Harrison also said teachers have no control over how prepared students are when they come into the school system, but the district is still accountable for their performance.

   “Dr. Harrison, I respect what you just said, but what you just said is basically the same thing I’ve heard for the last seven years,” Simpson said. “How much longer do we have to wait?”