Three Seaford schools earn superior ratings in state tests

By Lynn R. Parks

Three schools in the Seaford School District have been rated "superior" following the latest round of state tests. Blades Elementary School, West Seaford Elementary School and Central Elementary School all met the state's hallmarks for the highest school ranking. But two schools in the district, Frederick Douglass Elementary School and Seaford Middle School, are rated "academic review," meaning that students there did not make sufficient progress on their test scores from last year to this. And one school, Seaford High School, is rated "academic progress, under school improvement." That means, Steve Garner, director of accountability, assessment and technology, told the Seaford School Board last week, that the school has to have a district-approved improvement plan. The board is expected to vote on that plan next month. It also means, Garner added, that the school will be assigned a facilitator from the state Department of Education to help implement the improvement plan. All students in public schools in the state are tested every year. But school ratings are based on the student scores in just four grades: third, fifth, eighth and 10th. Schools in Delaware are judged by two standards, the federal demand for adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward its goal of 100 percent student success, and the state's progress determination (SPD). This year, that state's progress determination was defined as 68 percent of a school's students passing the state's English and language arts tests and 50 percent of a school's students passing the state math test. Schools that exceed both federal and state demands are rated superior, the highest rating. In addition, schools that exceed at least one of the two standards and meet the other are judged superior. A school that exceeds the federal standard but falls short of the state standard is rated commendable. A school can also be commendable when it meets the federal standard and either meets or falls short of the state standard.

A school is placed on "academic review" when its scores fall below the federal standard, regardless of how it fares with the state standard. The rating "academic progress" comes after two years of missing the federal target and hitting the state goal; if a school misses both targets for two years running, it is placed on "academic watch." And for a school that has failed to meet the standard for two years, "under improvement" is tagged on to the rating when those failing scores are in the same subjects. That's where Seaford High finds itself now. High school ratings also include the schools' graduation rate. The state target for graduation rates is 81 percent. The graduation rate at Seaford High is 70 percent. In addition, schools are also judged on the percentage of its student body that takes the state tests. The target participation rate is 95 percent. All Seaford schools met that target, Garner said. Garner told the board that in order to meet requirements, it is not enough for a school's student body to show sufficient progress. Under No Child Left Behind, students are divided into eight subgroups, or "cells": American Indian, African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, white, those with limited proficiency in English, special education students and economically disadvantaged students. If a school has more than 40 students in a cell, then that cell also has to show progress toward federal goals. At Seaford High, students in seven cells missed the federal target for improvement, Garner said. Garner told the board that meeting the state standards will become increasingly difficult because those state targets for improvement go up every year. The percentage of students who are expected to pass the tests increases annually so that by 2014, 100 percent of a school's students are expected to pass both tests. This expectation is part of the federal No Child Left Behind statute, passed in 2002. At Fred Douglass, for example, the students' test scores met state standards, Garner said. "But the progress was not there" to keep it from being placed on academic review, he added. Across the state, 97 schools were rated superior. Eighteen school were commendable, 26 are under academic review, one is on academic watch. Twenty Delaware schools are rated academic progress, under improvement, and 27 are rated academic watch, under improvement.

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