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Aug. 24, 2006
Contact: Brandis Griffith, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU research project attempts to help New Orleans public schools improve test scores

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas research project shows schoolwide test-score improvement when students are not segregated by disability and teaching methods for students of special and general education are applied at the same time.

Wayne Sailor, professor of education and associate director of the Beach Center for Disability at KU, will implement his School-wide Applications Model in the state-operated Recovery School District in New Orleans during this academic year.

Intellectual disability, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder are frequently cited as reasons children are taken from general education classrooms and placed in special education. They are unlikely to return, and the lessons they learn are often far behind what their peers learn in general education.

“When those kids went in to take the tests, they did very badly,” said Sailor. “When the special education kids did very badly, it tended to pull average test scores down for the school and put it below what the law considers adequate yearly progress” to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.

In New Orleans public schools, less than 40 percent of students were proficient in math or science even before Hurricane Katrina. Seventy-seven percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

“Even in schools that are ravaged with poverty and problems in the community you can still build a climate of learning,” Sailor said. “My own particular opinion is you’re not going to be able to change America and the situations that confront these communities unless you can begin by changing the quality of education in the communities.”

Sailor said he observed special education students in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, Calif., who received no instruction during class time and spent most of their time watching television. General education students only fared a little better, he said.

“Five years ago if you would have gone through there and looked at it, you would have said ‘I can’t believe the state of California allowed something like this to go on,’ ” Sailor said.

For the past three years, the Ravenswood district has been using the School-wide Applications Model. Now, the children receive better instruction, become more engaged and have more enthusiasm, Sailor said.

Under the School-wide Applications Model, teachers learn to differentiate instruction in order to reach all children. They sometimes make special efforts to reach kids who may need more information. Sailor said this sometimes means one-on-one, teacher-to-student work or grouping kids together around the classroom, where children help and challenge each other.

If children are still having trouble keeping up, the second tier of the model allows for these students, including those in special education, to receive more specialized instruction in a general-purpose area of the school. A time for assistance is worked into the schedule, and a student returns to the general classroom afterward.

The third tier of the program refers children with more serious disabilities to more individualized assistance, if they show no positive response in general classrooms.

The School-wide Applications Model emerged from research on the turnaround process for White Church Elementary School in Kansas City, Kan., which has a long history of partnering with KU faculty in reading, math and inclusion for students with disabilities.

In 2002, 65 percent of students were proficient in reading and 45 percent were proficient in math. The school now outperforms both the state and the district by 10 percent to 35 percent, with 87.5 percent of students proficient in reading and 100 percent proficient in math in 2005.

“I think the record speaks for itself. If you look at test scores and achievement results, there’s no question that it works,” said Ray Daniels, former superintendent. “It really does what No Child Left Behind talks about. It takes care of all the kids and recognizes that all kids have special needs.”

Daniels, who retired from the district in July 2005, added that he also gives the parents, teachers and staff at White Church Elementary credit for the school’s success. At the time, the district was also implementing a new program, First Things First, aimed at reforming all schools and improving academics and classroom engagement.

To break the cycle of poverty, gangs, violence and drugs, you have to begin with little kids, and you begin with their education, Sailor said.

“I think where we fail these kids in America is we don’t bother to invest in education,” he said. “We look everywhere else for magic bullets.”

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