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AHS looks to boost reading, grad rate

When Andalusia High School failed to make its federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goal in the 2008-09 school year, administrators, teachers and citizens in the community quickly took action to develop a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Monday, during the Andalusia Board of Education meeting at Andalusia High School, AHS principal Dr. Daniel Shakespeare and AHS assistant principal Donna Glisson detailed the school’s “continuous improvement plan.” The plan was developed by a committee consisting of Shakespeare, Glisson, six faculty members, one parent and one community member.

“We started working on this plan this summer and it’s just now finished,” Shakespeare said. “We’re trying to keep a focus on the quality of teaching in the classroom.”

In order to make AYP, schools must meet 100 percent of their federal No Child Left Behind goals in math, reading and attendance/graduation rates. AHS failed to make its goal for graduation rate — in order to make AYP, a school must either have a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, or show improvement from last year’s rate.

AHS’s graduation rate in 2008-09 was 79 percent, while the school’s graduation rate in 2007-08 was 85 percent.

Although improving the school’s graduation rate is a focus of the continuous improvement plan, the plan also includes strategies for improving reading scores. Under No Child Left Behind, each year a school’s minimum benchmark goes up, with a goal of 100 percent proficiency by the year 2014.

In 2009-10, at least 89 percent of AHS juniors must score either a “3” or a “4” the reading section of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. In 2008-09, the school needed 86 percent of its juniors to score highly on the exam — and although only 84.3 percent scored highly, AHS still received AYP in reading, based on a “confidence indicator.”

“Basically, that’s where the state says that ‘you’re close, so we’re going to give you credit,’” Shakespeare said. “The problem is, that next year, we’ve got to have 89 percent of our juniors in order to have AYP, so we’ve got to actually get a jump of 4.7 percent here this year.”

In order to work toward the reading AYP goal, teachers at AHS are being asked to incorporate reading strategies — such as using newspapers and magazine articles — into their lesson plans, regardless of what subject that teacher primarily teaches. In November, all teachers received training on how to incorporate those strategies, and they will receive follow-up instruction in January.

In addition, students will be required to use the “Cornell Note-taking system,” along with graphic organizers, to better organize notes and lessons. Also, teachers will be asked to utilize common vocabulary words in their lesson plans, as a way to prepare students for the possibility those words will show up on the graduation exam.

“We have got to be proactive in our approach,” Shakespeare said. “AYP is sort of like a nuclear reaction, it just continues to get bigger and the benchmarks get tougher each year. But we believe that parents want quality teaching every day, and in every block, and that’s what we’re striving to do as well.”

While most of the plan focuses on reading, there are other aspects tailored to addressing the dropout problem. These strategies include: targeting younger students showing profiles of potential drop-out for remediation, mentoring and tutoring programs; implementing an advisory team for all students; and utilizing the Peer Helpers and Volunteers in Schools program to help mentor and tutor students.

“Our advisory groups are used to build a relationship between teachers and students,” Shakespeare said. “These groups usually consist of a teacher and maybe 13-15 students, and they meet twice a month. On that day, we run an alternate schedule where we shave a little time off each block, to allow for that special 30-minute advisory group session.

“During that session, the teachers come in and ask students what their grades are, and ways the students can improve them. We just want to provide positive relationships for our kids.”