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Miraleste Enters 'Program Improvement'

Despite its 16-point jump in its API score to 910, Miraleste Intermediate School didn't meet the growth goals for specific subgroups in English Language Arts two years in a row, so it must enter program improvement.

While its overall test scores are among the top in the state, Miraleste Intermediate  School must enter the first year of what’s called program improvement (PI). Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), all California schools receiving Title 1 funds for low-income students must meet specific learning goals as measured by state tests or enter PI. Once in the process schools must re-examine their instructional program and adjust it to better meet the needs of all students.

In this case, Miraleste was required to enter PI because for two years in a row, the school did not meet its state testing goals for one subgroup of students in English Language Arts. In 2010-2011 the subgroup involved students with disabilities; last year, the school met the goals for special education students, but not for Hispanic and Latino students. The school’s overall API score raised 16 points to 910.

While discussing the ramifications of the designation at Thursday's board of education meeting, Superintendent Walker Willaims asserted that while some issues need to be addressed, the teachers and principal should still be recognized for the work that helped them get a good overall score.

“You got an A on the test if you got 900, (yet) we get into the debate about how good of an A did you get,” Walker said. “There’s work still to be done, but we need to applaud them for the work they are doing now so far.”

Although many schools statewide are already designated PI, Miralaste is the first school in Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District to begin the process. On Monday, Chief Academic Officer Martin Griffin and Miraleste principal Beth Hadley attended a workshop sponsored by the Los Angeles County Office of Education to learn about the steps the school needs take now that it is in PI.

Within three months, the school will have to send out a letter to parents notifying them about Miraleste’s status. The letter will inform them that they have the option to send their children to a neighboring school next year. Hadley said school staff will meet with students and parents in the near future to explain what PI status means. The school will also look at the entire school achievement plan and examine data to see how best to allocate resources to provide support to help students move towards proficiency.

Right now, the school is in the process of breaking down data on its students from state and internal tests to identify what groups need additional help. For instance, they are examining students mobility within the district and how long they have been in the district to see if that may be a contributing factor rather than sticking to the state category of Latino/Hispanic.

According to Hadley, the school already has a strong intervention program to help struggling students, but the staff is now looking at ways to better identify students who could use the extra help. The school will also have to use 10 percent of its Title 1 money to fund research-based professional development for teachers. Hadley said while complete professional development plans haven’t been finalized yet, the staff is already working with a literacy program that fits within the PI requirements.

“We are very committed to student growth and improvement and our plan is going to focus on each one of our subgroups,” Hadley said. “We feel that we are on the right path. We have already begun a school-wide program to focus on reading skills. We’re approaching this as an opportunity to completely address the needs of all of our students.”

To exit program improvement, the school must meet the growth goals for all of its subgroups in English Language Arts for two consecutive years.

A challenge all schools nationwide, regardless of whether they're in PI, face is that the goals that schools must meet under NCLB keep changing, Griffin said. This year, 78 percent of students must be proficient in English and math. The the goal will keep rising until 2014, when 100 percent of students nationwide must test at proficient levels.

“It’s a lofty goal, and yes, that should be something that we strive for; however, the reality is there will be some students that we work with who may be progressing, but we might not meet 100 percent proficiency by a given date,” Griffin said.  “We’re going to be working with the school in developing its plan for continuous improvement.”

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