Last-minute Change in State Goals Wipes Out Gains at Hannibal’s Middle School, Puts School Deeper on State’s List

Hannibal’s Kenney Middle School has been named a school in corrective action by the state Education Department for its students’ scores on English Language Arts exams.

It’s a step down for the school, which had been at the higher level of being in “improvement” status.

“We have shown improvement,” said Kenney Middle School Principal Daniel Keefe. “We are making incremental progress year to year.”

But the progress has not been enough for the state, which sets goals for school districts to hit.

The state recently raised the goals that schools have to reach, particularly the goals for students with disabilities. Schools complained that the state moved the targets after tests had been taken and scored, and nearly all schools saw setbacks in their progress towards state goals.

The state changed the scoring “after the game was done,” Keefe said. If they had not, “we would have made (the required progress) and we would have been off the list” of schools in need of improvement.

Instead, it will now take two years of meeting the state’s progress goals for Kenney Middle School to come off the state’s list.

The state provides some money to schools on its need-improvement to help them beef up their resources. Superintendent Mike DiFabio said the district will probably get around $80,000. About $20,000 of that amount needs to be set aside to pay a consultant for the required audit of the way the school teaches ELA.

There is an urgency to make the improvements the state wants. If the district fails to show progress long enough, the state could force a restructuring of the school or even remove it from the control of the district and Board of Education.

“It is not in our best interests to hold off” on improvements, said DiFabio. “We have to get off this list.”

The district had been making gains in reading performance, particularly after implementing a program called Reading First that backers say has shown strong positive results in the elementary grades. But the most recent round of budget cuts sliced into the Reading First program.

After that discussion, the Board of Education approved creation of the position of a literacy coach by moving Carri Waloven into Teacher On Special Assignment status to handle the position.