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Why all the fuss about subgroups in education?
by Dianna Blizzard
Oct 22, 2008 | 2854 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the onset of President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school systems across the nation scrambled to develop methods to meet the lofty goal of 100 percent proficiency in the areas of math and reading for all students by the year 2014.

The law held school systems accountable for closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority groups, high and low achieving students, and advantaged and disadvantaged students.

NCLB disallowed the common practice of averaging overall student progress to determine the effectiveness of a school and/or school system. The former practice blinded those reviewing test data to the small populations of students who consistently underperformed on standardized exams — students with special needs, minority groups, and economically deprived children.

These student groups, or subgroups, were ‘falling through the cracks’ at an alarming rate, yet many school districts were not concerning themselves with their plight since their poor performance did not reflect badly on the system’s overall performance average. The high achievers’ results were elevating the scores and concealing the desperate fate of the low achievers.

NCLB prompted states to develop a plan of action to reach the long-term goal of 100 percent proficiency of all students. Student performance levels are expected to meet or exceed the exceptionally more difficult state standards. All states were required to put in place testing systems and state standards that would meet the federal mandates.

The Georgia Department of Education put in place directives that mandated “all schools, local education agencies, and the State itself must test at least 95 percent of each student group (categorized by race/ethnic background, limited English proficiency, socioeconomic status, migrant status, gender, and disability), in order to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) [AYP is a measure of student achievement on state assessments on a year-to-year basis].

“Additionally, each student group (as well as the student population as a whole) must meet the State’s annual measurable objective regarding the percentage of students scoring proficient on State assessments.”

Any one subgroup that is unsuccessful in meeting or exceeding the standard can result in a school and/or district not meeting AYP. Schools or districts which do not make AYP will suffer sanctions if they fail to show improvement within a given time period.

As reported in (Sept. 21, 2004), “Individual schools must meet state ‘adequate yearly progress’ targets toward the 100 percent proficiency goal (based on a formula spelled out in the law) for both their student populations as a whole and for certain demographic subgroups.

“If a school receiving federal Title I funding fails to meet the target two years in a row, it must be provided technical assistance and its students must be offered a choice of other public schools to attend. Students in schools that fail to make adequate progress three years in a row must also be offered supplemental educational services, including private tutoring. For continued failures, a school would be subject to outside corrective measures, including possible governance changes.”

Subgroup populations quickly became the center of attention in all local school systems and districts.

Jones County responded to the requirement of subgroup disaggregation (monitoring specific populations of students) through the use of a Balanced Score Card. The use of Balanced Score Cards (BSCs) has been common in the business setting for over a decade.

The BSC is a tool that measures the performance of an organization and examines data in a method that brings to light information which would have been previously overlooked. The school system sifted through all standardized test data (Criterion Reference Tests, End of Course Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Tests) and compiled a comprehensive breakdown of all subgroup performance ratings over a four- to five-year period.

The results were recorded and compared against the state standards of expected performance. Since the BSC provides a framework in which to measure growth over a period of time, target goals were established which either met or exceeded state expectations or were a reasonable goal for a given group. Specific strategies have been put in place at the school level to address the subgroups’ academic challenges and to help ensure measurable and substantial growth.

The 08-09 Jones County Balanced Score Card can be viewed in its entirety at under the School Improvement Link.

Jones County is intently focused on two specific subgroup populations this school year; Students with disabilities and African-American students. Each of these groups has demonstrated less growth than desired in comparison to other populations in the system.

School administrators and district officials have met and discussed strategies to be implemented at the school levels which will address targeted areas of weakness. Schools will monitor individual student growth over the course of the school year to ensure that the measures in place are effective in initiating desired change.

Just this month, school principals reported out to the Jones County Board of Education members and superintendent their plans of action to address the weaknesses demonstrated on their school’s Balanced Score Card.

School leaders detailed practices and programs that would be in place within their individual schools in an effort to provide needed support to struggling students. Principals were also held accountable as to how progress would be systematically monitored throughout the school year.

The preparation and attention to detail this process entails is the guiding force in maintaining focus on the critical needs of a school system’s subgroup populations; and ultimately increased achievement for all students.

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