Why were the letters sent this year?
The letters are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and in response to a Title I audit last year. The district deadline for the letter was August 20th. We did not send the letter sooner because we did not receive our preliminary measures of progress from the state until August 19th.
The school choice letters are a part of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). School choice as defined by NCLB is a consequence of Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP. Inter-district school choice is something completely different. The consequences for not making AYP differ depending on whether a school receives federal dollars through an entitlement grant called Title I. Pine Glen and Francis Wyman have positions funded through Title I so therefore, these two schools are bound by the federal consequences.
Please note that both Pine Glen and Francis Wyman made AYP this year. In other words, the MCAS scores of both schools have improved. As a result of the Title I audit, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found Burlington to be out of compliance in that a school choice letter was not sent out in August of 2008. This year’s school choice letter brought Burlington back into compliance.
What is AYP? AYP is a federal measure of the performance of students across different sub-groups (federal term). The sub-groups in Massachusetts are as follows: Aggregate, Limited English Proficient, Special Education, Low Income, African American/Black, Asian or Pacific Island, Hispanic, Native American, and White. These descriptors are the federal nomenclature. Students can be represented in more than one sub-group. For instance, a low income, White student is in both categories. Students are grouped in grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 in each sub-group. A sub-group has a minimum group size of 40, if it is to be used as a measure of AYP. In other words, we may have students representing each sub-group at a school, but unless this group has 40 or more students the results are not used to determine AYP. In addition to a minimum number, if any one sub-group does not make AYP, then the school does not make AYP.
In 2007 and 2008, there were sub-groups at both Pine Glen and Francis Wyman that did not make AYP. Therefore, both schools did not make AYP. Again, both schools achieved AYP in using the MCAS scores from the spring of 2009. The school choice letter is the result of scores from 2007 and 2008.
Schools receiving federal money through Title I that have not made AYP for two years in a row in the same subject area (English Language Arts and mathematics only) are considered to be “identified for improvement.” The first year’s consequence of of this status is “school choice.” The second year is “school choice” plus “supplemental education services.”
Pine Glen and Francis Wyman were schools “identified for improvement” based on MCAS scores from specific sub-groups in 2007 and 2008. Even though both schools made AYP in 2009, it takes two years of making AYP for a school to work out of the “identified for improvement” status.
AYP is more than MCAS performance. AYP measures several categories of results across the 9 sub-groups. The first is participation. Specifically, 95% of students need to participate in order to make AYP. Burlington met this benchmark. If participation is met, then the school (and each eligible sub-group) has to meet either a performance or improvement target.
The federal law makes much more sense in the context of a larger, county-based or urban district. The federal mandate does not make much sense in Burlington although MCAS performance is important. For instance, in most cities there are students from traditionally under-performing sub-groups who reside in high poverty areas. The NCLB law allows families from these traditionally disadvantaged sub-groups to choice out of their neighborhood school and into a school from a different part of the city or county if their home school does not make AYP two years in a row and the school receives federal funds through Title I.
School choice as an option does not apply to all students at a school “identified for improvement.” Students from typically high performing sub-groups, even in a school that has not met AYP, are not the target group for school choice. In other words, it is the student sub-groups who are having achievement challenges who are targeted by the law for school choice. The vast majority of students in Burlington do not represent these traditionally under-performing sub-groups and are therefore ineligible for the school choice option. The law; however, requires us to notify all families at the school.
Does the label “identified for improvement” have significant meaning in Burlington? While not satisfied with our overall MCAS scores, the relative performance between elementary schools is very close.
In the Aggregate:
2009 prelimary MCAS Pine Glen – ELA (82.8), Math (82)
2009 prelimary MCAS FW – ELA (85), Math (79)
2009 prelimary MCAS FH – ELA (91.2), Math (85.4)
2009 prelimary MCAS Memorial – ELA (87.4), Math (86.7)
The larger and most diverse student populations have more sub-groups eligible to contribute to the federal AYP measure. For instance, Francis Wyman will have more student sub-groups measured than Memorial because of a higher total student population – note the 40 student threshold mentioned above. To restate, school choice is meant to apply to the sub-groups of students who are representatives of the specific sub-groups who have been traditionally unsuccessful.
In addition to historical performance, the state allows districts to prioritize grades and schools where there is room as a school choice option. We identified grades at the two schools who do not receive Title I funding, Fox Hill and Memorial. We identified grades where the class sizes fell under the school committee goal of 18 students.
I apologize that the this information is not simple. I also do not want this explanation to convey that we are satisfied with our MCAS performance. As stated in the opening we need to improve our MCAS performance across all schools and all grades.
Please contact my office if you would like any further information.