Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Test scores at middle school frustrate parents and teachers

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Despite its label as the only county school targeted for ‘‘corrective action” following the most recent round of state testing, parents at Silver Spring International Middle School say the school’s failure to meet its achievement goals is more frustrating than alarming.

‘‘When you put this ‘F’ on a school, it’s really a shame, especially for a school that has only continued to improve over the years,” said Silver Spring resident Kenzie Raulin, who has a daughter entering eighth grade at the school. ‘‘It can be scary for a lot of parents who aren’t familiar with the school, or who just moved into the area and are looking for a place for their child.”

Two groups at Silver Spring International did not meet progress goals in both reading and mathematics on the 2007 Maryland School Assessments (MSAs): the school’s black students and free or reduced-priced meals students, according to data released Aug. 15 by the state Department of Education.

Although the school met Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, last year, it was targeted for school improvement for failing to make AYP from 2003 to 2005. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires corrective action for schools that do not make AYP for two consecutive years if they have been identified for school improvement.

Community Superintendent Heath Morrison said the school needed to meet AYP for the next two years to be removed from corrective action consideration.

If the school still doesn’t make AYP after a year on the corrective action list, it goes into restructuring, which can include replacing everyone responsible for the failure to make AYP, hiring a management company to run the school, reopening the school as a public charter school, or other restructuring changes, according to the state schools’ Web site.

‘‘It’s hard to get news like that, because it means the kids are not performing where they should be,” said Victoria Parcan, the school’s principal.

County schools spokesman Brian Edwards said an achievement steering committee was already working with the school’s staff to prepare for the next round of testing. That committee is made up of county schools’ representatives who meet monthly at the school and specialize in various groups and subject areas.

Parcan said Silver Spring International provides the committee with data and information, and the committee provides feedback. ‘‘And if we’re not on target, they tell us that too,” Parcan said.

Morrison said two intervention specialists provided by the school system would work with students who did poorly on the tests to improve reading and math scores for the 2008 tests. Those students are also targeted for individual academic improvement plans, Parcan said, meaning that their progress will be monitored closely.

The only other county school that has been targeted for corrective action was Highland Elementary School, Edwards said. The Wheaton-area school was removed from the state’s watch list last year after meeting AYP for two years in a row.

To address the low test scores, Highland Elementary principal Ray Myrtle targeted students for one-on-one instruction, integrated English for Speakers of Other Languages and special education students into mainstream classrooms and had his teachers offer more after-school assistance.

Broad Acres Elementary School got intensive attention from the school system in 2001 when the school’s scores dipped under the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, the predecessor to the current MSA. At that time, teachers were forced to reapply to teach at the school with the understanding they would have to commit additional hours per week along with a three-year commitment to Broad Acres. The school system also provided additional support.

Ironically, Parcan said the two groups that historically score lowest on the tests — special education and limited English proficient students — made AYP at Silver Spring International this year, and she said a focus on those students over the last year could have contributed to the low scores in other areas. Parcan said the school missed AYP by fewer than 10 students in the categories of black students and those who receive free or reduced-priced meals.

‘‘When you have close to 800 students, it’s easy for a few kids to slip under the radar,” she said.

Parcan is starting her third year at the school, a sign parents say is promising after several years of turnover in its leadership. Since 1999, the year the school opened, Silver Spring International has not had the same principal for more than two consecutive years. In 2001, the principal at the time, Renee Brimfield, and several other staff members were suspended for their roles in providing students with questions from actual standardized tests.

Parcan said despite the school’s troubled history, she had no plans to leave.

In addition to the two intervention specialists, Parcan said she was looking for ways to reorganize her staff to identify teachers who could work as math content and literacy coaches. The coaches will focus on working with the teachers rather than the students, she said, to come up with strategies on meeting achievement goals.

Jack Hume, PTSA co-president at the school, said it would take some time for the school to see continuous success, and to adjust to zeroing in all of its subgroups.

‘‘Sometimes it’s easy to judge a book by its cover,” he said. ‘‘It is disappointing, but at the same time, there is so much more to the school than one test... For an entire school to be judged on that one test, it’s very, very frustrating.”

Making the grade

Silver Spring International’s record on adequate yearly progress in the Maryland School Assessments, which began in 2003:

2003: Students in limited English proficient category did not meet AYP in reading

2004: Students in special education category did not meet AYP in reading

2005: Students in Hispanic and special education categories did not meet AYP in math; students in free and reduced-price meals, black and Hispanic categories did not meet AYP in reading

2006: All categories met AYP

2007: Students in free and reduced-price meals and black student categories did not meet AYP in math and reading

Source: Maryland State Department of Education

To review results

AYP results can be viewed at