Middle school goes to work to improve test scores

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Ring Lardner Middle School students may be benefiting from the school improvement plan that has recently been put into place as they are currently taking this year's MEAP tests.
School officials said Tuesday they are working hard to develop specific programs to aid those students identified as needing help on the recently-released Michigan schools report card.
The school, which failed to make the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement of the Education YES! school report cards, is making the necessary school improvement steps to reach the requirements set out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school officials said Tuesday.
Though the school as a whole would have made AYP, Ring Lardner failed to make it because three of their subgroups did not meet proficient levels on last year's MEAP tests.
This is the first year that the schools were evaluated on the basis of the performances of the following subgroups: ethnicity, English language learners, economically disadvantaged and special education students.
Not only must the entire school pass on proficient levels, each of the subgroups must also pass at the same levels of proficiency to make AYP.
At Ring Lardner, the special education subgroup did not meet the requirements of the 7th grade language arts portion of the MEAP test. And the ethnicity, economically disadvantaged and special education subgroups failed to reach proficient levels on the 8th grade math portion.
Though Craig does have some problems with how the current system evaluates schools, he thinks it is good that the requirements force the schools to pay close attention to the specific subgroups that need improvement.
Craig said schools used to set goals for whole school improvement, instead of concentrating on students who need extra help.
One way that Ring Lardner is catering to the students who need extra help is by providing a team of teachers that can develop specific lessons to meet the needs of each student.
The teaching teams are made up of math, language arts, science and social studies teachers.
Ring Lardner principal Gary Garland said the teams allow the teachers to meet and design lessons plans that will help each individual student to understand the material that they are being taught.
Garland said Ring Lardner has also adopted a new language arts curriculum for this year, part of which concentrates on improvement in reading.
He said there has been a lot of educational research that says if student's reading levels increase, their other learning skills will also increase.
Ring Lardner also has an after school tutoring program called Homework Busters.
Homework Busters is available three days a week with Ring Lardner teachers and Niles High School honor students providing the help to students who need it.
When a school fails to make AYP for two consecutive years they may face the possibility of sanctions, but Craig said the district is not overly worried about this possibility for two reasons.
One reason is that the main sanction will be to take away federal money for title one programs.
Craig said title one programs are mainly at the elementary school level and that Ring Lardner only has a few small programs in place. in which they receive approximately $5,000 per year.
The second reason is that Craig thinks the evaluation system is going to change.

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