TEN SIGNS OUR SCHOOLS ARE MAKING PROGRESS (written 9.20.07)
1. Achieve State Standards: Lowell’s average improvement on 2007 MCAS scores was 10%–double the state average. Also, comparing the district’s 2005 and 2007 test scores, 29% more Lowell students achieved advanced or proficient, and 18% more moved out of the failing category. Statewide, 50% of schools labeled “in need of improvement” or “in corrective action” achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2007. In Lowell, 80% achieved AYP, a significant jump and the most progress the district has made to date. Clearly, the focus on consistent curriculum and high quality, standards-based instruction is paying off, but there is still much work to be done to continue to build on that momentum.
2. Challenge all Students: Last year, the district implemented targeted interventions to better meet the needs of all students, such as additional time for math remediation, reinforcement, or acceleration, depending on the skill level of the student. Early results show that 64% of middle-school students who received math remediation or reinforcement earned grades of 80 or above on their report cards. (Further analysis with 2007 MCAS results shows some astounding successes particularly at the middle-school level. For instance, 14% more Lowell sixth graders scored advanced/proficient in math on MCAS while those scoring in the warning category reduced by 15%. )
3. Support Struggling Readers: Last year, middle-school students who needed remedial support in reading received at least 120 minutes each week of targeted intervention, which resulted in a significant number of students moving out of the at-risk category: ranging from 40% in grade 5 to 29% in grade 7. (Overall in grades 3-8, 44% of struggling readers moved out of the at-risk reading category within one academic year.)
4. Meet Special Education Timelines: Through restructuring special education services to school-based teams, timeline requirements were met in 92% of the cases during 2006-07. When issues beyond staff control, such as parent delays or absences are factored in, time requirements were met 97% of the time—more than a 25% improvement over previous years.
5. Teach Limited English Students: With the highest statewide population of students and families who are not native English speakers, Lowell exceeds the state average on the Mass. English Proficiency Assessment (MEPA). In addition, last year, effective implementation of teaching strategies resulted in 45% of the students who began the year in the transitioning stage of English proficiency moving to the next level (probable) while 37.3% of those in the probable category successfully transitioned out of limited English status.
6. Focus on Freshmen: Identified as a critical year for many students, recent efforts to provide additional support for freshmen have resulted in significant advances, such as reducing the absentee rate by 18%, increasing the course passing rate by 14%, and decreasing the number of students who fail two or more classes by 15%.
7. Attract Excellent Teachers: Amid a national shortage, Lowell continues to attract and retain qualified teachers. This school year started with all but one of the 1170 teaching positions filled, and of those, only 18 teachers (less than 2%) have not yet earned licensure—a sharp contrast to six years ago when school started with more than 20 vacancies and 120 unlicensed teachers.
8. Retain Excellent Teachers: With high teacher turnover (50% within five years in some urban districts), Lowell’s Teacher Academy—the only one like it in the state—helps support and retain our best new teachers. Funded for the first three years by private grants totaling $1.6 million, last year’s efforts (the academy’s second) resulted in 87% of the 124 first-year teachers being rehired (7% resigned and 6% were not rehired). For the 88 second-year teachers, 92% were rehired (5% resigned and 3% were not rehired).
9. Improve School Safety: Last year, the district piloted a survey, developed by the Council of Urban Boards of Education, to assess students’ thoughts regarding safety at their schools. (Student feelings of safety were stronger in Lowell than in schools included in the board’s national survey.) Continued efforts in this area will result in baseline data and trends to inform continued efforts around safe and respectful climates at all schools. In addition, the district’s bullying policy was updated and all schools implemented bully prevention programs.
10. Invest in Leadership: All K-8 principals, assistant principals, high school administrators, and central office administrators participated in the Dept. of Education-sponsored National Institute of School Leadership (NISL) program, earning Lowell state recognition.