St. Croix schools showing mixed progress


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ST. CROIX — As the territory’s schools grapple with the immense task laid out by No Child Left Behind — 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by 2017 — the major jumps in achievement that are necessary are being realized in some schools, while others are stagnating.

Recent figures show promise in some schools — 90 percent of Pearl Larsen Elementary fifth-graders tested proficient in math in 2009-2010 — but others are floundering, showing little progress.

With Annual Measurable Objectives — AMOs — raised almost 15 percent for the current school year, meeting Adequate Yearly Progress, the standard by which achievement is gauged, will be a formidable task for most schools.

However, preliminary numbers on the VITAL-S test scores for St. Croix schools from the 2009-2010 year revealed that a number of those schools already are past the necessary marks, at least in some areas.

The St. Croix District’s VITAL-S scores were given to The Daily News, but the St. Thomas-St. John District did not immediately release its data.

On St. Croix, the schools that performed exceptionally well were: Pearl Larsen Elementary, Alexander Henderson Elementary, Claude Markoe Elementary, Ricardo Richards Elementary, Evelyn Williams Elementary, Elena Christian Junior High, John Woodson Junior High and St. Croix Educational Complex.

All of those schools’ scores tended to be higher than the annual goals set for the past three years: a 38.4-percent student proficiency in math and a 37.7-percent in reading.

But the goals for the upcoming three years are significantly higher. For third through eighth grades, the new AMOs are 53.3 percent in reading and 53.8 percent in math.

The 11th-grade annual goal is 55.6 percent proficiency in reading and 52 percent in math.

Still, even using last year’s results, some of the St. Croix schools would have made the marks — with at least three schools posting results well beyond the new AMOs and showing that 60 to 70 percent of students were proficient.

The news is encouraging, but it needs to be more universal and happen faster, said St. Croix Deputy School Superintendent Maria Encarnacion.

“They’re improving,” she said. “Not as quickly as we would like, but they’re improving.”

There still are a number of schools that are lagging behind, with proficiency stuck at about 25 percent of students.

Schools that were not showing progress were supposed to be held accountable under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The act was intended to raise student achievement through increased school accountability. If a school does not meet Adequate Yearly Progress — AYP — it can lose federal funding.

Meeting AYP depends on a number of factors: the percentage of students testing as proficient in a subject area; the school’s attendance rate; the level of performance for minorities; and the participation rate for special-education populations.

The percentage of students who tested proficient in a subject is measured based on the VITAL-S test given each March.

When the territory’s schools first were tested, the results revealed a sobering statistic: Only about 20 percent of students tested proficient in reading and math. To meet the 100 percent proficient deadline meant making it up in leaps and bounds, said St. Croix Director of Data and Assessment Winona Sackey-Joshua.

“Because we started so low — 20 from 100 is 80 — and we had to divide that up into larger chunks,” she said.

The U.S. Education Department raises the AMOs every three years, she said.

“It’s hard, because every time we’re getting close to where we need to be, it jumps up,” Sackey-Joshua said.

With so many schools failing to meet AYP, the territory is not buying into the idea of withholding funding from failing schools, said V.I. Deputy Education Commissioner Sarah Mahurt.

“We’re not going to take funding away from low-performing schools,” she said. “We will have input on how they spend it.”

Once the 2009-2010 school year AYP results are in, schools that have failed to meet the cut for the past three years will be placed under greater state control — with oversight and support coming from the V.I. Education Department, Mahurt said.

“I know there are different ways that people do it in the states, like firing everyone, but we’re looking at more of a supportive approach,” she said.

V.I. Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry described it as a rewards and sanctions system.

“It does not include going in and firing everyone, because we would have an empty school,” Terry said. “Things will be done so some schools will have less autonomy and will be told specific things they must do.”

In the meantime, the schools that are doing well are thrilled, and while the Education Department has not released the school report cards for the 2009-2010 year that reveal who made AYP and who did not, the academic results on St. Croix give reason to hope.

In the 2008-2009 year, only four elementary schools made AYP on St. Croix. Ten made AYP in the St. Thomas-St. John District.

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