School size does matter in testing

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ STAFF WRITER

Superintendent Patricia Miller is new to the Fort Sumner school district. But when adequate yearly progress results from the New Mexico Public Education Department reached her desk Monday, and the district received a big AYP thumbs up, she was ecstatic.

“There was much hand-clapping and a dance of joy,” Miller said.

Somewhat muddling the district’s feat, however, are nationwide trends that show the federal mandated proficiency standards results often correspond to a district’s girth.

In the Fort Sumner School District, there are approximately 350 students.

It’s true, said Miller, “a small school is at a greater advantage because we know our students and their families very well and we can intervene in student issues.”
But larger school districts can learn to cultivate the winning methods of smaller districts, she said, by “developing personal relations with kids and developing individual improvement plans.”

By comparison, sevens schools in the much larger Clovis school district did not make AYP.

Texico Junior High School principal Rick Stanley points to student-centered philosophies as making a difference.
“We offer student incentives to come to school. Every six weeks students who have not missed a day of school get Friday off,” Stanley said. “One thing that would help a larger district is finding those students who are right on the bubble, just a few points away from being high (AYP) achieving, and trying to help them.”

That’s exactly what former La Casita Elementary Principal David Briseno did when the dual-language school didn’t meet AYP last year. He said school teachers gave borderline AYP students an “extra push” to edge them into the AYP proficient category, practicing a theory that although phrased somewhat differently aligns with Miller’s and Stanley’s.

For La Casita, the theory worked. This year, the school meet AYP.

La Casita also has the highest number of English Language Learners (136) in the Clovis district. In three other district schools significantly smaller ELL subgroups measured below par.

“We use a lot of different learning strategies with the ELL group,” said new La Casita Principal Mark Trujillo. “One of those is scaffold instruction. We break down vocabulary into smaller parts and make sure students understand the vocabulary before we move onto the next step.”

Yucca Junior High School also shattered AYP trends.
Although the school did not pass the 2005 AYP bar due to a low scoring ELL group, it did manage to pull its special education students out of a two-year trench.

Like Trujillo, Yucca Principal Alan Dropps credits inventive learning strategies for the turnaround, most specifically the newly implemented “Language!” program, also introduced in other junior high schools in the district.

The program, Dropps said, samples from a variety of tactical learning strategies, even employing a set of hand symbols to teach students.

Some students are visual learners; others students are oral learners; most notably, said Dropps, the program caters to each.