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Paris Elementary joins ranks of CIPS, striving to improve
PARIS — For the first time, poor test scores in reading last fall has pushed Paris Elementary into the ranks as one of Maine's Continuous Improvement Priority Schools (CIPS), according to the school's principal, Jane Fahey.
Low scores were seen primarily by low-income students in grades 3-7, she said – particularly in reading.
She explained that there are numerous factors, aside from low-income, that can deem a school a CIPS school – including test score results in different subgroups, such as by learning level, grade level and gender.
Other factors, Fahey presumes, are increased class sizes after schools consolidated, as well as the transition for students from one school to another and curtailment of state funds.
And every year, she said, the requirements for the federal No Child Left Behind Act become more stringent.
"The law says that by 2014, 100 percent of students in public schools in the United States have to meet or exceed grade-level standards on the state test," Fahey explained.
"They incrementally raise the bar for each grade level, for each subject, every year, from the time No Child Left Behind was adopted (2002) until 2014."
"There are 99 ways to fail and one way to succeed," said SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts of meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards.
"If your special needs students don't show the Adequate Yearly Progress then your whole school is identified as a school in need of continuous improvement," he gave as an example.
And, according to Colpitts, each subgroup could have as few as 20 students in it.
Fahey said the current state requirement is that 80 percent of students in all subgroups must meet AYP. Last year, Paris Elementary was well over 60 percent of meeting AYP, she said.
"We made it [AYP] in every area, math and reading, except for in the low-income [population]," she explained.
"We missed by two students ... we were so close."
However, despite schools struggling to meet AYP, there are some advantages with No Child Left Behind, Colpitts said.
"The good thing is, it does require us to look at all those subgroups which before, we may have ignored or dismissed as an ... anomaly or outlier," he said.
"It requires us [SAD 17] to focus and try to find ways to improve [everyone's] performance."
According to Colpitts, all 10 schools in SAD 17 implements an individual school improvement plan, regardless of ranking as CIPS.
"That's something we felt was really important," Colpitts said.
In Maine, students take the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test. Fahey said while Paris has been labeled a "failing" school due to its low reading test scores, there has been "tremendous growth" overall in all areas of NECAP since last fall.
"The kids are doing well here," she said. "We are making excellent progress. ... We just didn't make that huge jump that we needed to."
"I think Paris has done a superb job," said Colpitts, "as has the other schools that have been on Continuous Improvement."
Oxford Elementary School, for example, is designated a CIPS 3 school for its underachieving test scores in math, but Colpitts said overall, like Paris, the performance at the school has "skyrocketed."
"But because the benchmarks continue to rise, it's been hard for them; they are making more than a year's growth," he said. "They have to meet a year-and-a-half's growth every year in order to ... get off CIPS."
Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School has been ranked a CIPS school for its second year, according to reports. Rowe Elementary School in Norway, as well as Harrison and Otisfield elementary schools are on the monitor status, which means for two consecutive years, those schools failed to meet AYP.
"If on the third year you don't succeed then you're identified as CIPS 1," Colpitts explained.
"But I think our kids are doing great," he said.
"They're working hard ... and our teachers are very keyed into the common core and what's required to ensure the kids do well on the test."
Room to improve
Fahey says NECAP testing is used for schools to meet the reading and math requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act once each year for grades 3-8.
However, according to Fahey, the state unfortunately does not recognize or congratulate schools that show even a significant improvement.
"It has angered us into action," Fahey said.
She said aside from scores in the different subgroups, NECAP also looks at daily attendance in schools, which must be at 94 percent or higher to meet NECAP standards, as well as high school graduation rates.
To address the issue, Paris Elementary is developing a plan to improve its scores of underachieving students, as mandated, said Fahey.
To help implement the plan, the school was awarded a $15,050 grant from the state, she explained, and in addition, Paris Elementary set aside 10 percent of the school budget for Title I reading services.
"The bottom line is, we need to do better," Fahey said.
She said the main goal, though not easily attainable, is to get 100 percent of Paris Elementary students reading and doing math up to the "proficient" level on state tests by the 2013-2014 school year.
"If you look at it logically, if No Child Left Behind were to continue ... every school in America, eventually, would be a failing school," Fahey said, especially if all subgroups, including those with special needs, continue to be held at the same standards.
If the state receives its No Child Left Behind waiver from the U.S. Department of Education – which requests flexibility with some of its requirements seen as unrealistic – the results may be different, Colpitts said.
"One hundred percent would be almost miraculous," Fahey said, "but we are going to try, and we are going to give it our best effort.
"We are going to provide the most support we can possibly give to these children."
By law, Paris Elementary is now required to form an improvement committee and to write a school improvement plan, Fahey said.
Paris' committee is made up of 12 staff members, including the Title I coordinator and three parents, which will meet at least three times a year. According to Fahey, the committee has been charged with looking at the student data and developing a plan to address poor reading scores for Paris' low-income students.
By June 2013, she said, 80 percent of Paris Elementary students in grades 2 to 6 will meet or exceed grade-level expectations in reading comprehension as measured by the second edition of the developmental reading assessment (DRA).
That means eight out of 10, in a class of 20 students, 16 students must meet grade-level standards, Fahey said. "That's huge."
"We are hiring subs and doing some intensive teacher training in the area of reading," Fahey explained.
"Teachers are also in the process of purchasing several professional books and ... will do a book study on reading issues."
Additionally, Paris Elementary staff will receive training in restorative practices, designed to help improve relationships between teachers, students and parents. The plan is to build and maintain healthier relationships and in turn create a better learning environment.
Another part of the plan, said Fahey, is to get low-income parents more involved with their child's learning by June 2013, especially at home where resources are limited.
The idea, she said, is to teach parents how to help their children develop better reading and math habits at home.
"There are a whole bunch of kids that could do better if we do better," Fahey said, "and we have to accept that responsibility."