by the Opelika Observer staff
While much ballyhoo and bold headlines were made of the Opelika City Schools’ lack of adequate adequate yearly progress (AYP) scores from the state, OCS assistant superintendent Brenda Rickett took time during Tuesday’s school board meeting to explain the scores and put their meaning in context.
The system met all but one of the 25 goals at the third through fifth grade span, failing to make AYP in reading for the special education subgroup, though only two of the 62 special education students in the subgroup were found to be “not proficient.”
Opelika Middle School had similar issues, meeting 22 of 23 goals, but not making AYP in the special education subgroup, again with only two of 75 students scoring “not proficient” on the high-stakes tests.
Rickett said while the scores were not as high as the system had hoped, the special education subgroup at both schools had made great strides over the last few years, citing a rise in proficiency percentages across the board in reading scores – including a rise in 6th grade scores from 37.5 percent in 2008 to 60.8 percent last year.
At Opelika High School, 17 of 20 goals were met, with the free/reduced meals, black and all students subgroups not making AYP in reading. AYP was met in mathematics for all subgroups.
Again, Rickett pointed to the percentage changes in those subgroups as a sign of progress, with the free/reduced meal subgroup seeing a 7 percent higher pass rate than in 2008.
Superintendent Mark Neighbors said that while some students did not do well on the graduation exams their 11th grade year, the school’s pass rate was much higher for seniors, with a 92 percent pass rate for this year’s senior class compared with the 83 percent pass rate the school earned while those students were juniors.
Board members questioned Rickett and Neighbors on whether the school’s higher concentration of students with special needs was a factor in the AYP results.
Both Rickett and Neighbors said that while Opelika does have a higher number of students with special needs than its neighboring systems, school officials are reluctant to put more of those students on a different track to achieve an Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD), given to students who fail to pass the necessary portions of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam.
“If a child cannot pass the high school graduation exam, they cannot graduate with a standard diploma,” Rickett said. “The AOD diploma does not count toward graduation, and it also does not provide the same weight when a child is looking for jobs.”
It is for that reason, Rickett explained, that the Opelika system is careful about assigning students to Alabama Alternate Assessment (AAA) instead of the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT), which leads to a standard diploma.
“We are very, very careful because once we say they’re going to be on AAA, we have set a course for them that will be hard to turn back from, and we want to give every child every chance possible to get a standard diploma, even if it means our test scores may not look as good as everyone else’s,” Rickett said.
Rickett added that in the coming year, the state of Alabama hoped to implement its own system for monitoring schools’ progress and that the state department of education was currently working on its new measurement system.
During the rest of the board meeting, Neighbors announced a motion to dismiss had been filed between the school system and former Northside principal Chris Dark. Dark’s attorney, Auburn’s Don Eddins, filed the motion to dismiss Sept. 11 after the parties reached an amicable agreement.
Neighbors reitterated that no money or settlement had been reached between the parties; any settlement would have required a school board vote for approval.
In other actions, the school board:
– Approved the hiring of six new system employees, including two new kindergarten teachers to keep class sizes level at Southview and Carver.
– Was presented with books and t-shirts by Rev. Steve Carson on behalf of the “One City, One Book” program. This year’s book and program, “Uncommon” by Coach Tony Dungy, was launched last week during the Opelika/Robert E. Lee football game.
– Saw a presentation from architect David Payne, who showed the board 3D artist’s renderings of the planned Opelika High School renovation project.
– Agreed to a five-year capital improvement plan.
– Passed the fiscal year 2013 original budget proposal.
– Allocated money from the state at-risk community service collaboration funds to the Boys and Girls Club of Lee County and Greater Peace Baptist Church for special services for at-risk students. The Boys and Girls Club received $15,000 while Greater Peace got $5,000 in funds.
– Approved a payment plan for the Opelika high project with the city of Opelika that the Opelika City Council passed in August.