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Partnerships, Technology Aid Rural Alaska District

Rural Kodiak Island Borough School District in southern Alaska is using partnerships with a local college to help its paraprofessionals become highly qualified, and distance learning to help students achieve AYP standards.

Kodiak Island Borough School District in rural southern Alaska is facing many challenges implementing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements, but has developed ways to assist paraprofessionals in becoming highly qualified and help schools make annual yearly progress requirements.

The district has 13 schools, six of which qualify for Title I assistance.

Almost three- fourths of Kodiak's paraprofessionals do not meet the NCLB definition of highly qualified. The Kodiak district currently is developing a program, in partnership with Kodiak College, a branch campus of the University of Alaska, to help Title I paraprofessionals meet the NCLB requirement of two years of college.

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The program also is designed to provide training to enable paraprofessionals to first obtain an associate's degree and then complete a four-year degree and become teachers. Topics covered in a six-credit course taught in the summer of 2003 by a district staff person included classroom management, children as readers, and how to work with special education children. Fifteen paraprofessionals took the class in the summer of 2003.

The district recognizes, however, that even with some courses being available through distance learning, completing a teaching degree involves a very long time commitment for paraprofessionals who have many family and community demands on their time. For paraprofessionals who cannot spend their summer taking classes, the district is looking at the option of requiring these staff members to pass an examination that demonstrates knowledge equivalent to two years of college.

In the area of AYP, Kodiak is experimenting with distance learning as a means of improving student performance and meeting other NCLB requirements. The district runs a learning center in cooperation with four other school districts that provides cyber courses for the eight village schools. Students with the lowest test scores at these schools (below the 40th percentile in reading, for example) are targeted for enrollment in the cyber school, which gives them extra instruction in reading skills and other areas on top of their regular class work.

One of the Kodiak Island schools did not make AYP in 2002. Throughout 2002-03, the district focused resources and technical assistance on that school, and the school improved enough to make AYP in 2003, so it was not targeted for school improvement in 2003-04. Because a school's average test scores may be less reliable, in a statistical sense, when there are small numbers of students in a school, grade, or subgroup, Alaska applies a process called "confidence interval" reporting to determine AYP. Under this measure, the school that did not make AYP in 2002 scored 44 percent proficient in language arts and 22 percent proficient in math for its 13 students. These scores were above the state expectation, and no subgroup fell below the target, so the school met AYP requirements.

Five other Kodiak schools, however, did not make AYP in 2003. At one school, the percentages of students overall scoring at proficient levels were 81 percent in language arts and 73 percent in math, but the subgroups of English language learners and students with disabilities at the school did not meet state benchmarks, so the school fell short of making AYP.

In three other schools, the same two subgroups of English language learner and students with disabilities did not make AYP. District officials are concerned that these two groups will continue to have difficulty making AYP. In the case of English language learners, these students leave the subgroup once they become proficient in English. In the case of students with disabilities, many were referred to special education precisely because they have significant learning or cognitive disabilities that make it difficult for them to master the content likely to appear on state tests.

SOURCE: Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see A Look Inside 33 School Districts: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.