2011 AYP Ratings Released: A Short Reprieve, But Urgency Still Needed
The 2010-2011 AYP ratings were released Friday, and my wife and I were a bit surprised to see that a remarkable number of schools earned a “Superior” or “Commendable” rating. In fact, the number of schools ranked “Superior” went from 66 in 2010, to 137 in 2011. That means that close to 67% of the state’s 205 schools received a superior rating. Obviously, we want to see our schools succeed, but given the state’s work to raise the definition of proficiency for all students, we thought fewer, rather than more schools would be defined as “Superior.”
So what happened? If we take a closer look at the Delaware Department of Education press release and the actual school level performance of the schools we can see a few things that help explain what happened. One, plenty of schools genuinely did improve. For example, Long Neck Elementary School in the Indian River School District made huge gains from fall to spring and is among the highest performing schools in the state.
Second, to be consistent with the federal designations, the state consolidated its seven designations of performance – which included almost indistinguishable terms like “Academic Watch” and “Academic Probation” – to three – “Superior” exceeds standard, “Commendable” meets the standard, and “Academic Watch” does not meet the standard. This shift created the unfortunate consequence of three larger, less nuanced categories of performance, but it does serve to simplify the system. The seven previous designations reminded me of the Inuit’s multiple names for snow, indistinguishable.
Third, and likely the most impactful reason for the shift in designations, is that to compensate for the aforementioned raising of the bar for individual students, the state sought and received federal approval to reset its definition of Annual Measurable Objectives or AMOs (see the DDOE release from Friday above) for schools. So, if you were a principal in the old system, you would have needed to get 84% of your students to the proficient mark in reading, but under this “reset”, you only need only to get 50% of students to the new higher bar in order to be deemed “Superior”; hence the more than doubling of schools with a “Superior” designation.
So, with so many schools getting a “Superior” rating, does it still mean anything and does that diminish the sense of urgency those schools should feel? Based on the published targets that the DDOE has agreed upon with the feds, it looks like this is only a one-year reprieve. Next year, schools will need to have 67% of their students meeting the much higher standard in order to get a “Superior” rating and then the bar jumps to 83% in 2013. So, while schools should enjoy the superior designation this year, to keep it, they will need to take full advantage of every support and partnership they can muster in order to maintain it.
Finally, as this accountability system gets further refined over time, I hope the state takes extra care to acknowledge schools like Elbert-Palmer Elementary School in the Christina School District that did not meet their overall target for this year, but made some of the strongest growth from fall to spring in the state and they are working with 97% of students in poverty. Those teachers are doing something right and should be acknowledged for it.