Eugene Field Elementary School’s leadership team has begun the process of mapping out a plan to ramp up test scores at the school, the school’s principal said.

“We will begin our school’s assessment this week in a computerized program called KansaStar,” Shannon Fanning, principal of Eugene Field, 720 Tremont Ave., said Jan. 29. “We will complete an extensive assessment through the computerized program, and it will analyze our results and give us suggestions about what we can implement in our school to best meet the needs of our students.”

The U.S. Department of Education granted Kansas a waiver in July 2012 that exempts the state from the No Child Left Behind requirement that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. A condition of that waiver required the state Department of Education identify at least 10 percent of the state’s Title I schools as “Focus Schools.” Eugene Field was on that list.

Focus schools are identified by comparing a new calculation called the Assessment Performance Index score of the lowest performing 30 percent of students within each Title I school to an established state benchmark, Fanning said in a letter that went out Aug. 17 to parents of Eugene Field students.

“The Title I schools with the largest gap between the state benchmark and its lowest performing students are designated focus schools,” she said in the letter.

To determine which schools would be targeted, the state looked at the combined scores of two years of math and reading state assessment results. Eugene Field scored an identical 72.6 percent on the reading and math tests in the previous school year, below the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks of 87.8 percent in reading and 86.7 percent in math. The school also did not meet AYP standards in the 2010-2011 school year — under the No Child Left Behind guidelines that no longer are in place in Kansas.

“We are now to the point that I think our data and assessments are going to be coming together in the course of the next month, and I am optimistic that this process will be helpful to our students and staff,” Fanning said Jan. 29. “We are learning this process along with the state.”

Representatives of the Kansas Learning Network and Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center are assisting Eugene Field staff and other Ottawa school district officials through this process. As part of this assistance, a district facilitator, Janice Nicklaus, a longtime education specialist from Lawrence, has been assigned to Eugene Field “to offer feedback and help us tap into resources. Some ideas that we have discussed are scheduling to ensure that student learning time is maximized, a peer tutoring/coaching program and finding a quality training for differentiation,” Fanning said in a written report, which she presented to the Ottawa school board Jan. 28 while briefing board members on the focus school process.

Eugene Field was the only building in the Ottawa school district to be designated a focus school. To erase its focus school designation, a school must hit state-established benchmarks in reading and math for two consecutive years.

“Once we have chosen the indicators that we believe will make an impact and we can implement, then our School Improvement Plan is created through KansaStar and submitted to the state department,” Fanning said. “We are hoping to complete the assessment this week or next week and be able to choose our indicators when our district facilitator meets with us on Feb. 19. We are hoping to complete our School Improvement Plan in March and submit to the state at that time.”

Nearly 68 percent of Eugene Field students qualified for free or reduced lunches in the 2011-2012 school year, the highest percentage in the school district. More than 50 percent of students in the Ottawa school district qualify for free and reduced lunches.

“I do feel that the socioeconomic status of our area does contribute to some of the challenges that we face at Eugene Field,” Fanning said. “Several years ago, our district invested in poverty training and the effects on learning. This is something that we will be receiving additional training for and how we can better meet the needs of our students and families.”

Through the initial visits with Kansas Learning Network representatives, the discussions identified seven turnaround principles, which Fanning listed in her report: Maximize learning time, ensure rigorous curriculum, utilize data analysis, establish safe environment, provide strong leadership, enable effective educators and grow parent and community engagement.

Kansas Learning Network representatives commended Eugene Field staff and administrators for having “a uniform behavior management system that was observed in the classrooms and throughout the building. Eugene Field demonstrates a strong commitment to CHAMPS [Conversation, Help, Activity, Movement, Participation] and the positive behavior supports protocol. Support staff members are actively involved in student learning.”

The focus school process started early in the fall semester, and it has been something of a learning curve for the state and the school district, Fanning said.

“We were the first school working through the process of being a focus school,” Fanning wrote in her report. “This is not only new for all of us, and we are entering uncharted territory, but the state is working through it as we go as well. There are definitely still timeline and kinks to work out as we go.”

Fanning said she thought the process ultimately would result in improved academic results at Eugene Field.

“While it has been a bit of a ‘waiting game,’ it will be beneficial in the long run,” she said.