Lincoln School honored for for improving student performance

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September 1, 2009
— Lincoln Elementary School is being recognized for helping to close the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The school will receive the state Deparment of Public Instruction's Promise Schools of Recognition award, which was scheduled to be announced today.

The award recognizes schools with relatively high student achievement in the 2008-09 school year despite having a high proportion of students from low-income families.

Lincoln Principal Radonna Amiel credits her staff, which she said has been focusing on student achievement.

"The whole staff, they work well together, and they just don't give up," Amiel said. "… I'm just so proud of them. They just keep pounding away at it."

Amiel also credited the district leadership for giving her and other principals the freedom to use their staffs' strengths to the best advantage, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all program.

Working on character-building and reaching out to get parents involved also boosts grades, Amiel said.

To qualify for the award, schools must be in the top 25 percent statewide for the percentage of students whose families qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The schools also must have above-average performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam in reading and math when compared with similar schools.

Poverty often is cited as a barrier to improving student achievement.

This is the first time a Janesville school has won the award since the DPI instituted it in 2003. DPI recognized 182 such schools for the 2007-08 school year.

The percentage of Lincoln families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch under the federal lunch program has increased in recent years, from 35.5 percent in 2005-06 to more than 50 percent last school year, according to statistics posted online at the Wisconsin Information Network for Successful Schools.

Amiel said some parents might not be pleased to hear that they're in a rather high-poverty area, but she said staff deserve credit for the student achievement.

Lincoln does not have the highest level of low-income students in the district. Jackson and Wilson schools, for example, have higher rates.

In the most recent testing in November 2008, 79 percent of Lincoln students in third, fourth and fifth grades were rated as "proficient" or "advanced" on the state reading test. Eighty-one percent reached that goal in mathematics.

The percentage of students who passed the reading test actually dropped last year, from 83.1 percent in 2007. Amiel said she wasn't sure how the state used the data to make the award, but she said test performance can go up or down for a variety of reasons, including the number of students who have disabilities that affect learning.

Other criteria for the award are that the school be eligible to receive federal Title I funding—which also is income-based—and have made "adequate yearly progress" for the past two years as defined under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

An awards ceremony is being planned for October in Madison. Last year's awards included plaques and $1,500.

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