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HCPS progressing toward CATS goals

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

If the hopes of Henry County Public Schools officials hold merit, the winds of change could bring a boost to the district’s CATS scores.

Gains in portfolio scores at Henry County Middle School and Henry County High School, and gains in math scores at the middle school, gave Superintendent Tim Abrams hope.

“I’m very excited about the future for both of those schools,” he said, adding that the 2008-2009 school year brings increased expectations for all students.

With a district biennium accountability index of 76.4 — below goal, but above the assistance level — HCPS is considered a progressing district. Additionally, the district’s novice rate — 15.04 for the biennium — is below the goal of 16.14.

The district’s elementary schools rose almost three points to an accountability goal of 89.7, while the middle and high schools dipped slightly to 78 and 70.7 respectively.

Abrams said that in the coming months, there will be an increased focus in the district on ongoing assessments.

“I think our teachers are working very hard,” he said. “At both (the middle and high) schools, we have tremendous instructional leadership. I think both of those are going to lead us to greater success in the future.”

According to Abrams, the district’s elementary schools are well on their way to 100 percent proficiency by 2014. He said that increased attention to early childhood education is one reason for that — 2007/2008 was the fifth year for all day kindergarten, and the fourth year for all day preschool. “Those kids are moving up through the ranks, and we’re seeing great academic progress because of that,” he said.

Abrams and assistant superintendent Kricket McClure both acknowledged that there are significant gaps in two areas — students with and without disabilities, and students approved, or not approved, for free/reduced lunch.

“We’re still struggling with students with disabilities,” Abrams said. The district has met with special needs teachers at the middle and high school levels, and “we’ve already made some changes with how we’re going to attack those issues.”

He stressed that the students need to be exposed to the same curriculum, and that students with disabilities need to be exposed to high expectations not just at school, but at home as well.

“They need to have high expectations,” Abrams said. “If a student has a disability in reading or in math, that student can be as successful as any student we have ... they need to overcome that disability. It’s incumbent upon us to do that, but they also need support from home.”

The free/reduced lunch gap, considered an indicator of the performance of poor students, is one Abrams said the district has been working on “for several years.” It’s a particular concern in Henry County, where Abrams said 50 percent of any given classroom will have students on the free/reduced lunch program.

Abrams said that in an effort to improve scores and instruction, a district instructional leadership team — composed of several district employees, school principals and teachers from each school — was developed.

“It’s a big group of folks, but we’re meeting once a month to talk about instructional issues, and how we ensure that we are focusing on the (core content) for assessement,” and how the district can ensure that all students are getting all of the curriculum.

Elementary scores

The overall academic index for the district’s elementary schools rose 2.8 points to 89.7, and Abrams indicated he felt more than confident the schools would reach the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

“With the things we have in place, just in a year or two we’re going to be there,” he said.

Both Campbellsburg and Eastern met their goals, while New Castle Elementary School narrowly missed its mark and was listed as progressing.

As a whole, elementary schools in the district saw substantial gains in math and social studies, where scores rose 9.4 and 15.7 points respectively. Arts and humanities and on-demand writing scores also increased — 2.2 and 1.9 points respectively.

Reading declined slightly, less than half a point, and science fell 3.4 points, while practical living/vocational studies fell 7.6 points. Portfolio scores dipped slightly, 1.8 points below 2007.

Each elementary school had reading, math and science scores over 90. Combined with districtwide scores that did not fall below 80, the results led to a prediction by Abrams.

“I’ll make a bold prediction,” he said. “We’ll be there in the next year or two. With several of the initiatives that we’ve had going on for the last several years, we’re starting to see them pay off.”

Those initiatives include what Abrams and McClure described as “thoughtful education,” and “best practice” strategies. They said the district also is working on student numeracy, or math literacy, by incorporating math into all subjects.

At the elementary school level, the academic index gap between free/reduced students and their counterparts narrowed from a 22.9 point gap last year, to a 17 point gap this year. The gap between students with and without disabilities dropped slightly to 33.2. The gender gap narrowed from 3.4-points to less than a point.

The largest gap among the content areas was a 50-point gap in fifth grade math scores between students with disabilities and those without.

Of the three elementary schools, Eastern Elementary made the strongest gains, jumping almost nine points in its accountability index. The school posted four of the highest content scores (reading, math, science and social studies), as well as six of the biggest gains. The school had just one score decrease — portfolio writing fell 2.3 points.

Campbellsburg led the district with its arts and humanities and portfolio scores, while New Castle led the district in practical living/vocational studies scores.

The lowest score among the elementary schools was a 77.9 in social studies at Campbellsburg. The highest was Eastern’s 97.1 in science.

Middle school scores

With an accountability index score of 78, HCMS fell 1.2-points from its 2007 score. The Middle School did not meet its goal, but is considered progressing.

The school’s content scores varied from 69.8 in science, to a 92.2 in portfolio writing.

While reading, science, arts and humanities and practical living/vocational studies all dropped (3, 4.8, 7.5 and 2.7 points respectively), portfolio scores jumped almost 13 points, and math scores rose by three points. On demand writing scores dipped slightly, falling less than one point from 2007.

The academic index gaps for the middle school included a 10.7-point gap between male and female students, a 19.4 point gap between students approved and not approved for free/reduced lunch, and a 31.3-point gap between students with and without disabilities.

The biggest overall score gap was an almost 60 disparity between students with disabilities and those without in sixth grade math. Students without disabilities had a 92.3 while students with disabilities scored just 32.4.

High school scores

High school scores also ran the gamut, with a low of 54.9 in math and a high of 82.9 in arts and humanities. The school’s accountability index fell from 72.4 in 2007 to 70.8. The score was below the school’s goal, but the school is considered progressing. The school’s novice rate was above goal.

Scores in just three content areas increased — arts and humanities (0.12 points), portfolio writing (seven points) and on demand writing (10.4 points). Reading, however, dropped by 10.4, math dipped by about half a point, science dropped 4.8 points, social studies dropped 7.8 points, and practical living/vocational studies scores dipped by less than half a point.

The gap between male and female students increased to 9.4-points, 14.3 points between students approved for free/reduced lunch and those not in the program, and 29.4 points between students with and without disabilities.

The school’s largest content area gap came in arts and humanities, where the scores of students with disabilities were 44.7 points behind students without disabilities.

100 by 2014?

With a district index of 76.5 in 2008, Henry County has to increase 23.5 points to reach the state goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. To do so, the district will have to have an average index increase of 3.9 points each year.

As a reference, in 1999, the district index was just 63.3. In the 10 years since, the district has increased scores just 23.2 points, an average of 2.3 points per year.

Abrams remains confident that the district will reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014 as a variety of initiatives continue to play out, and as students in the all day kindergarten and preschool programs work their way up.

“I also think with what I’m seeing at the high school and middle school (leadership), and the same initiatives at the elementary school ... I think we’re going to see great gains there.”

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