Monett shows gains in English Language Learners

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Annual testing reveals targets reached in 2013-14

Each year, the Monett School District undergoes one residual assessment left over from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Scores on state standardized tests reflect how well the English language learners are performing in Monett classrooms. In 2014, students met two out of three standards, better than last year, while still leaving the district classified as "needing improvement."

Scores on the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State tests showed Monett's ELL students greatly surpassed expectations for demonstrating growth and reaching proficiency to leave the program. Two groups of students met the standard, including those who had received extra help as ELL students for three years or less, and those who had been in the program for four years or more.

"We made the 'improvement' standard by 20 or 30 percentage points," said Superintendent Brad Hanson. "The state wanted 32 and 36 percent to meet the target, and 62 and 63 percent of our students made the mark. That shows we're really doing well with our kids."

Kindergarten and new students were not included in the count.

On the second assessment, students had to earn a perfect composite score in both reading and writing on the ACCESS exam. In the first group of 163 students, 7.4 percent of students hit the target, topping the goal of 6.8 percent. In the second group, made of 346 students, 28 percent met or topped the goal, with a target of only 8.7 percent.

Getting both groups to top the target had not occurred in two of the last three years. According to Mike Dawson, assistant superintendent, leaving the program depends not on the test score, but on the individual student.

"I asked the ELL department why we make the second standard some years and not others," Dawson said. "They told me that after talking to the teachers, they decided not all the students were transferring their skills into their content work. We judge kids case by case to see if they're ready to leave the program, or we keep them another year. If we went straight up with the state's numbers, we'd make the standard more regularly. We do what's right for the kid every time."

On the third standard, assessors looked at how many of the ELL students scored in the proficient range on the state's Missouri Assessment Program standardized tests. Dawson observed that under No Child Left Behind standards, the percentage of students expected to hit the proficiency total rises each year. Out of 75 school districts in the state with ELL students, 74 fell short and received a "needing improvement" classification. Hanson called the standard unrealistic.

In communication arts, the No Child Left Behind standard wanted to see 59.6 percent of ELL students scoring proficient, up from 56.2 percent in 2012. Only 24.6 percent of Monett students hit the target, down from 32 percent in 2013. In math, the standard targeted 60.8 percent scoring proficient, up from 56.4 percent in 2012. Hitting the mark were 34.2 percent of Monett's students, down from 40.1 percent in 2013.

"Our philosophy is: 'Treat every kid as an individual,'" Dawson said. "Some move at a faster rate than others. The state says, regardless of the kid, the target grows. They want to see an increase on MAP scores every year. The population of kids doesn't always match that.

Dawson said he recently participated in a research project with the University of Missouri.

"She asked me to define our ELL program," he said. "I said we just try to meet the needs of our kids. That's part of what we do. Sometimes you need a small group or a large group or a pull-out session with a student.

"It doesn't matter what the need is, we're there to meet it. If a student came to us from another district and had the same need, we'd respond the same way, whether they were ELL or not. Whether it's poverty or language, we think teaching makes the difference."

Dawson credited Daphne Hensley, coordinator of the district's ELL program, and her staff for making the district's program work. Each campus now has an ELL certified staff with paraprofessionals to assist them, both in the classroom and making outreach programs to involve families.

"Twenty years ago, Monett was seeing a big influx of ELL students," Dawson said. "We had one teacher teaching to a mass group and assumed every student came from the same socio-economic background. Now, a teacher spends a few minutes in front of the class and a lot of time with small groups. We've personalized learning. That's good for any kid."

Dawson said Monett has a very supportive Hispanic community.

"We're seeing the second generation of established families," he said. "They still have their own grocery stores and churches, and may just speak Spanish at home. Our challenge is how to mesh the two cultures. That's why we have we have programs like ELL, and develop relationships with the families."

Because the district remained classified as "needing improvement," a letter went to all district patrons informing them and an improvement plan was drawn up. Hanson was not discouraged by the assessment.

"I feel confident the services we offer will continue to be top notch," he said.

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