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Principals present AYP reports to School Committee

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW The four East Longmeadow schools that participate in standardized testing are holding their own with the No Child Left Behind Education Act (NCLB), moving toward a goal of 100 percent proficiency by all students by 2014.

"We are a competent school system, but [achieving 100 percent proficiency] scares me a little bit," Dr. Joanne Welch, director of Special Education & Student Service, said.

A school can have very high MCAS scores and still fail Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measurements mandated by NCLB.

AYP measures individual school progress against annual, state-specific performance targets established by the Department of Education in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Grades three through 12 all scored above state average on all MCAS tests, but some still "failed" according to AYP measurements.

Superintendent Edward Costa said, "One hundred percent is a wonderful goal," but he doesn't think the way the schools are evaluated is fair. He noted during Monday evening's School Committee meeting, where AYP was discussed, that as a teacher, he didn't punish a whole class because one student acted up, but the law punishes a whole school for one "failing" child.

In 2008, 50 percent of all schools in Massachusetts failed to make AYP mandates, a statistic Costa noted as "startling."

The best a school can do according to AYP is to have no status. If a school is found failing during a two year cycle, it drops down to the improvement level. If progress is not made, it then drops to corrective action; then, restructuring; and finally, state take-over.

Birchland Park Middle School principal Kathleen Hill said it was unlikely the state would take over a failing school because of financial constraints.

Mountain View School and East Longmeadow High School

Carolyn Wallace, principal of Mountain View School, announced that all subgroups and the school as a whole achieved AYP mandates during the past school year. Richard Freccero and Michael Knybel, principal and vice-principal of East Longmeadow High School, respectively, delivered the same news.

Mapleshade School

The 329 students at the elementary school as a whole did achieve AYP for both English Language Arts and Mathematics during the 2007-08 school year, but for both subject areas the school failed because one NCLB-defined subgroup -- Special Education -- did not reach the mandated levels of proficiency.

Ninety-three students were classified as Special Education for the AYP report, about 28 percent of the school's population.

Principal Brenda Houle said these results drop Mapleshade down into the improvement level.

Birchland Park Middle School

The middle school remains at no status for English Language Arts testing, but has fallen into year one of the restructuring phase for Mathematics due to a "failing" subgroup. Hill noted that Special Education achieved AYP mandates this year, but students from the Low Income subgroup did not. Low Income makes up less than nine percent of the school's population.

Both Birchland Park and district officials will be working on improvement plans to improve Mathematics scores. "We're creating plans as we speak," Costa told Reminder Publications. Some of those plans include free afterschool tutoring and additional Mathematics classes being offered during the school day. Costa stressed that parents will always have the first choice when it comes to what their children do at school.

"AYP doesn't just aim for progress, it demands it," Costa said. "We have a lot of kids with a lot of hurdles to jump." According to the superintendent, approximately 24 percent of students in the East Longmeadow school system are on special education plans -- but the state only allows one percent of those students to take alternative MCAS tests.

The East Longmeadow Public Schools are still doing well overall, however.

"We know our plans are working," Costa said.

Those plans include the SMART goals for the 2008-09 school year, which will be presented at the next School Committee meeting on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the School Committee Conference Room in the high school.