November 1, 2012 | Volume 42, No.44

Grade school wins improvement honor

Special education students in Haines Elementary School have improved test scores by 30 percent in the past two years, netting the Haines Borough School District a statewide award.

The state Department of Education named the Haines school and Delta Elementary School as “National Title 1 Distinguished Schools.” Haines was one of 10 schools statewide nominated for the honor, winning a category for “closing the achievement gap.”

District scores show special education students steadily improved language arts skills from 49 percent proficiency in school year 2008-9 to 71 percent in 2011-12. In mathematics, the same students improved from 46 percent proficiency in 2008-9 to 65 percent in 2011-12.

Scores in 2008 that were just above the state average for students with disabilities last year climbed to 20 points above the state average, according to district figures.

“It’s spectacular. They’re looking to see if there’s a trend in improvement,” said superintendent Michael Byer.

Title 1 schools receive federal funds to support programs that supplement instruction to meet the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools. There are 275 Title 1 schools statewide.

Byer attributed the award to recent efforts by the district to identify students who are struggling and get them help.

An assessment program launched two years ago helps the district teach to students’ weaknesses, he said. “We can tailor-make and design an intervention program for a student,” he said.

Barbara Pardee, the district’s Title 1 coordinator, said that starting five years ago, the district cast a broader net to find students in need of help and reached them at younger ages. The district uses teams of teachers and trained aides to zero in areas of difficulty and provide programs struggling students need, she said.

“We can tell where the weaknesses are and we can go for more intervention. We now have those kinds of tools,” Pardee said.

Catching struggling students in the school’s lower grades also keep them out of special education programs, Byer said. “Kids get funneled into special ed. early on. If you can help children early on get up to grade level, it can likely mean they don’t have to go to special ed.”

For winning the honor, two representatives of Haines Elementary School will represent Alaska at the National Title I Conference Jan. 21-24 in Nashville, Tenn.

Haines Elementary serves 180 students in grades K-8. About half of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and one quarter of students are Native. More than 90 percent of its students are proficient or advanced in reading and writing and nearly 85 percent area proficient or advanced in mathematics, according to the award press release.