School Choice Letter

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.

6 thoughts on “School Choice Letter

  1. Simona Mocuta

    First of all, I want to thank you for putting together this information, which I found clarified many of my questions. However, you’ve made a point about how schools’ relative performance based on aggregate MCAS scores is actually very close. Not being an expert in this area, I would have thought that a difference of nearly 10 points on ELA between say, Pine Glen and Fox Hill, is a large difference. What would you define as “significant” difference in performance? Is it 20 points or more?
    Also, how does group size impact aggregate results? I guess what I am asking is whether smaller schools are generally at a disadvantage because the impact of 2-3 bad scores bring down the average for the entire school faster than they would in a school twice the size? Is that what you meant when saying the NCLB requirements don’t suit Burlington very well?

    1. burlingtonps Post author

      Thank you for your comment. Significance is difficult to measure using MCAS scores annually. I cannot tell you whether 5 points or 20 points indicates a significant difference. I think MCAS scores are better suited for trend information. The data can be sorted in many different ways. For instance, the percentage of third grade students who performed at the proficient and advanced levels on the grade 3 English MCAS Test – Fox Hill, 69% (2007), 61% (2008); Pine Glen 62% (2007), 66% (2008). Do these numbers indicate significant differences in the schools? Obviously, there are many variables involved in school quality. I do want our MCAS score to continually improve.
      Group size impacts us in that our larger schools have sub-groups that count in the measures of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) associated with NCLB. You are also correct in that the aggregate performance of our generally small schools are impacted by outliers more than schools with larger student populations. I have difficulty applying the statistical term “outlier” to this conversation because every “outlier” in this case is a child. Eric Conti

  2. Pleased Parent of Elementary

    Thank you for this explanation, it has helped sort out a lot of information and relate it to our children and the Burlington schools, so that we can make informed educational decisions on their behalf going forward. (I do keep reading this information over and over…in doing so I get a little something more out of it) 🙂

    Bottom Line, lets all get involved and knowledgable so that we can make the best decisions for the better whole going forward.

  3. Pine Glen Dad

    Thank you for the additional information. I still have a few questions:

    Why didn’t we receive the school choice form in August 2008?

    Schools that receive federal Title I funds that have not made state-defined adequate yearly progress for two consecutive school years are required by the NCLB Act to develop a two-year plan to turn around the school. Pine Glen did not make AYP for ELA subgroups in 2007 and 2008 and aggregate in 2008. Does Pine Glen have such a plan in place? Is this plan available to the parents?

    Why do AYP performance targets change year-to-year?

    What was the 2009 ELA improvement target? Who sets the improvement targets?

    I’m concerned about the noticeable decline of scores in the ELA performance aggregate at Pine Glen (listed below). For the last three years, Pine Glen has failed to meet these performance targets. What changes are being made to correct this?

    2003: 90.0
    2004: 86.7
    2005: 82.4
    2006: 81.3
    2007: 82.7
    2008: 78.2
    2009: 82.8

    Thank you.

    1. burlingtonps Post author

      The letter did not go out in August of 2008 because of my mistake. Families should have received the same letter. This omission came up as a finding in our Title I audit. The “turn around” plan is incorportated into the school improvement plan. We are fundementally changing the schedule at the elementary level. This change would be considered part of a “turn around” plan. The school improvement plan is available to parents. AYP performance targets change because the objective of NCLB is to have all students (including all sub-groups) meet 100% proficient in the 2013/2014 school year. Massachusetts steps up the target every two years. I need to research the specific target. There would have been different improvement targets for the aggregate vs. each sub-group. The state sets the target. We are making significant changes in how instructional time is used across the district. I will ask John Lyons to continue this conversation in more detail with you and all other Pine Glen families.

    2. John Lyons Principal Pine Glen School

      I would kindly invite the anonymous dad that wrote this post to contact me via a phone call. I would be very happy to invite this individual into my office to discuss the powerful initiatives we have in place at Pine Glen School for the upcoming school year. The welcome back letter which is posted on my Principal Blog outlines some of these exciting modifications we are making at Pine Glen.


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