AYP standards could be more flexible

By Marlena Hartz

Individual schools and school districts in New Mexico will be rated on a more flexible system when it comes to the performance of special education students in Adequate Yearly Progress, under a temporary scoring calculation reprieve granted by the federal government.
“We felt we should apply for it (testing flexibility) because we wanted to give our special education students every opportunity to score well on the AYP,” said NMPED Public Information Officer Beverly Friedman.
The results of the 2004-2005 AYP for all New Mexico schools and districts will be released Aug. 1, according to an NMPED press release.
Public school campuses, school districts, and the state are evaluated for Adequate Yearly Progress by the federal government, in a measure spelled out in the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Each entity is required to meet AYP criteria on three measures: Reading and language arts, mathematics and graduation rate (applicable to high schools and districts), or attendance rate (applicable to elementary and junior high schools).
If a campus, district or state that is receiving Title I, Part A funds does not meet AYP for two consecutive years, it is then subject to certain requirements, such as offering supplemental education services or giving parents the choice of sending their children to an alternative school.
Don Watson, assistant secretary for the assessment and accountability division of the New Mexico Public Education Department, said the interim flexibility provision is a short-term solution to a big problem. Watson said many schools across the nation fail to meet AYP and many blame it on unfair standards applied to special education students.
“This flexibility is a signal that the federal government recognizes there is a problem,” Watson said.
Students who are severely mentally challenged can take an alternate AYP test, Watson said. But a small group of students who are mildly or mentally disabled must take the same test as their peers with accommodations, something Watson says is flawed.
Terry Warnica, director of special education services for the Portales school district, said that when accommodations are made, they are done in a manner so as not to unfairly benefit students with disabilities.
“You can’t read the reading comprehension section to them because you’re testing their ability to read,” Warnica said, “but you can read other subjects like math or science because it’s testing their knowledge in those subjects.”
The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing long-term solutions to problems in AYP procedures, according to Watson. He said the state may be able to implement a test that is based on alternative achievement standards for special education students by the 2007-2008 school year.
“You would have to use the same content standards,” Watson said of the possibly revised test, “but the performance expectation would be somewhat different.”

PNT Managing Editor Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.