ANACONDA - Though Anaconda High School did not meet federal standardized testing requirements last year, district leaders say a closer look at the results shows they are moving in the right direction.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 stipulates that at least 83 percent of public school students test proficient in reading - and at least 68 percent test
proficient in math - to make Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
Overall, Anaconda High met or exceeded those marks on the Montana Comprehen-sive Assessment System, but the school failed to make AYP based on lower scores from its economically disadvantaged students.
Exactly 83 percent of 341 total students were proficient in reading, while
73 percent were proficient in math, according to a report recently released by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
However, those figures dropped to 76 percent and 67 percent, respectively, when looking at the 132 students who qualified for free and reduced school lunch.
If any subgroup falls short of the No Child benchmarks, including economically disadvantaged and disabled students, the school does not make AYP. A subgroup is only recognized if the school has at least 30 students fitting the description.
Anaconda High also fell short of the target graduation rate of 85 percent.
Lincoln Elementary School and Fred Moodry Middle School both made AYP this year. The high school has not made AYP since 2006.
Superintendent Tom Darnell said he is pleased that the entire Anaconda High student body tested well, and showed a dramatic improvement in math, with just 51 percent proficiency one year earlier.
"I have no problem admitting we didn't make AYP, but locally, we have to show recognition for our improvements," Darnell said.
Darnell further cited research that argues economically disadvantaged kids struggle to score as high as their peers on standardized tests. Specifically, a 2002 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states low-income children are consistently behind on measures of academic success.
"They often don't have the support system at home for studying, but the target is still the same," Darnell said. "There's no recognition of differences between the kids."
Schools can provide programs and materials, Darnell said, but they can't make kids attend classes or take advantage of those resources.
To help encourage attendance and bolster its graduation rate, Anaconda High will introduce a new four-track diploma program next year that offers more choices to students.
Coursework will be tailored for college preparation, advanced college preparation, vocational and basic graduation tracks to encourage kids to stay in school.
College preparation and advanced college preparation tracks will still require 24 credits to graduate. The vocational track will require 22 credits, and basic graduation will require 20 credits.
"The only rationale is that kids are different, and they need to have options," Darnell said. "I think this will be practical and valuable for our students."
In a joint statement, curriculum coordinator Angela McLean and Anaconda High Principal Paul Furthmyre said they have already brought on two new math instructors at the high school, and partnered with Sylvan Learning for tutoring to qualified students.
All math and English classes will use classroom "clickers" in the next school year to further assess students' progress, McLean and Furthmyre said.
Staff are also working on their own development plans, and are working with each other across the district to meet the needs of at-risk students, they added.
The district will continue to strive toward higher scores and push students to reach their potential, Darnell said.
"We have to look at the trend, and what's happened over the years," he said. "Our expectation is we will continue to improve."
- Reporter George Plaven may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.