OPRF leaves too many behind again in 2005

Reading scores jump up for black, poor students

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By DREW CARTER

Oak Park and River Forest High School for the third consecutive year failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a measure established by the federal No Child Left Behind mandate, according to a recent standardized test report.

Although it has not yet been confirmed by the state, the school's assessment of its math scores on the Prairie State Achievement Exam indicate that it did not make the grade in three subgroups: African-American, special education and low-income.

"The reason for these disappointing results is really a big question mark at this time," Amy Hill, director of instruction, said in a school statement.

Reading scores rose to all-time highs. But to miss making AYP, a school need only fail in one subject area with one subgroup of students.

The percentage of black and low-income students making AYP in math in 2005 was less than half of that for all juniors. About one-third as many black and low-income students made the grade compared with white students.

About 72 percent of African-American students were "left behind," or did not make AYP, in math. And 75 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch tested below the mark.

Scores for blacks in math appeared to be on a slight increase since 2001, when one in four students tested at grade level. Scores for 2005 dropped more than 10 percentage points below their 2004 mark of 39 percent, though.

Math scores for whites also fell to 80 percent making AYP, the lowest mark in the five years the test has been given.

Scores in science?#34;which will not be used to determine whether the school is making AYP until next year?#34;were also down.

AYP "is a measure of school performance. Students can test only with the skills and knowledge base we provide them with," said Phil Prale, assistant superintendent for curriculum. "We take it pretty seriously, and we've got to try to do better."

The school will continue analyzing the test data throughout the school year to determine how changes in the curriculum might better prepare students. Administrators will look at individual student records to see what courses they took to identify any holes.

Because it's in its third year of not making AYP, OPRF now will have to offer Supplemental Education Services to certain students. That will mean paying for tutoring services from an approved list of companies.

The high school needs to pay for services costing up to 20 percent of its Title I funding, which is approximately $74,000 (20 percent would be roughly $15,000). Title I money comes from the federal government and it must be spent on programs aimed at helping struggling students.

With an annual budget of approximately $55 million, why bother with the Title I funding and the headaches No Child Left Behind brings?

The district still thinks it's important to pay attention to all of its students, so it's not ready to reject the money, Prale said.

"We have a lot of students who benefit from those dollars," he said. "There's a lot of good that comes out of Title I."

The school has yet to define how it will identify eligibility for tutoring services, and is waiting to hear from the state whether it needs to offer tutors for only math or for other subjects, too.

Last year OPRF did not make AYP in part because of a minimum requirement in the number of students tested. It fell below the 95 percent mark for participation among black and Hispanic students.

This year, just two students out of the entire test-taking population of 745 juniors last spring did not take the test on one of the four testing and makeup dates.

Last year the school also had a problem testing students with special needs off campus, which it resolved this year by getting one of its alternative schools designated as an approved testing center.

The bright spot in the tests was reading scores, which reached their highest levels in five years. All students appear to be making AYP, Prale said.

Seventy-six percent of all juniors tested at or above grade level, including 53 percent of African-Americans and 48 percent of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch.

Prale welcomed the good news, saying groups of teachers have started reading initiatives in recent years.

"We've been paying attention to it for awhile," Prale said, warning, "I can't say it's causal."

Part of the problem with the way the state determines AYP is that it is based on one class's performance in a single year. A good year or bad year could simply be a better or worse group of test-takers.

Prale and other educators would like to see a "value-added" approach taken: testing over multiple grades to evaluate how schools have helped students through their high school careers.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

Just more than one-third of seniors at Oak Park and River Forest High School are prepared for college courses in all of four subjects?#34;English, algebra, social science and biology?#34;according to a report by the company that administers the ACT, a college entrance exam.

ACT established benchmark scores for determining college readiness: 18 on its English test, 22 on its math test, 21 on its reading test, and 24 on its science test.

Being "ready" for a college course means having a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in the class that corresponds to the test score subject.

In English, 78 percent of OPRF students are ready for college English, compared with the state average of 63 percent. Those figures for algebra are 59 percent for OPRF and 38 percent for the state, and for social science are 64 percent for OPRF and 45 for the state.

Forty-one percent of OPRF seniors made the mark in biology, compared with 20 percent statewide.

The report indicates, too, that OPRF students who had taken advanced math and sciences courses score slightly higher than students statewide who had taken similar courses. Students who have taken more than three years of math and science courses score higher in those subject areas than those who have not taken the courses, the report states.

Overall, OPRF students scored an average of 23.2 in all subject areas, compared with a state average of 20.3. OPRF officials are in the process of exchanging data with peer districts to see how its scores compare.

?#34;Drew Carter

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