For the past few weeks, I have been discussing state assessments and the changes Ottawa High School and our students will be faced with next year. As I stated in my most recent column, we soon will be graded on six Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs). “Achievement,” “Growth” and “Reduction of Non-Proficient” were detailed earlier, leaving us with “Gap,” “Graduation Rate” and “Participation Rate” yet to be discussed.  

• Gap — The goal of reducing the Gap AMO is to decrease each building’s achievement gap by half by the 2017-18 school year. Progress toward this goal is expected to be made in equal, annual increments. A building might also achieve the Gap Reduction AMO by demonstrating an Annual Performance Index score of 500 or greater for its lowest performing 30 percent of students. OHS’ current lowest 30 percent achieved an API score of 395 in reading and 263 in math. The annual expected growth by OHS students, according to the state of Kansas, is an API growth of 28 for reading and 38 for math. The purpose of this measuring device is to accurately assess how we are differentiating instruction to our highest and lowest performing students. The state would like to see our schools effectively improving instruction at all levels, at which time we should then see growth from not only our high-performing students, but also those who have traditionally scored poorly on state assessments as well.

• Graduation — The overall AMO for graduation is that 80 percent of our students must graduate. This AMO also can be met by achieving a 3-percent improvement if the prior year was greater than or equal to 50 percent, but less than 80 percent, or by achieving a 5-percent improvement if the rate was less than 50 percent. The AMO can be met by the four-year or five-year rate calculation. OHS had a graduation rate of 79.8 percent last year, which means that we will have to improve that rate by at least 3 percent this year. The four-year or five-year cohort for OHS are low because we have seen graduation rates in the past seven years plummet to about 72 percent, putting our four-year cohort rate at 74 percent and our five-year rate at about 72 percent. There are other pieces that have to be met, as well as an expectation of 80 percent of students graduating from specified subgroups of more than 30 students. Such subgroups include “Free and Reduced Lunch,” “Students with Disabilities,” “English Language Learners,” “African American,” “Hispanic,” “White,” “Asian,” “American Indian,” “Alaskan Native,” “Multi-Racial,” “Native Hawaiian” or “Pacific Islander.” If we have a group of students falling under one of these categories that consists of more than 30 students, we will be measured on those groups graduating at 80 percent as well. So even if we meet that AMO for our school overall, if we have a subgroup that does not meet the 80-percent expectation we will not be awarded progress on the AMO.

• Participation — The AMO for participation in state assessments is 95 percent. The expectation applies to both reading and math and can be achieved by 95 percent of our students taking the assessment in the specified area. The AMO also can be achieved by a two-year or three-year participation rate average that is equal to or greater than 95 percent. Thus, if a school were to fall below 95 percent one year, it still can meet the AMO if its two-year or three-year average is more than 95 percent. The Participation AMO also is based on the same subgroups that are listed above, which once again means that schools will have to monitor each subgroup and make sure everyone is participating in assessments.   

The six AMOs we have discussed will have a major impact on our schools in the very near future. The scary part for us as a school, however, is that there are some major issues with how the AMOs will work. At this point, the state still has not determined what state assessments will look like. They are currently piloting an assessment but have found some problems in its design. Secondly, a basis has not been determined as to who will be assessed and how many times. For instance, we currently assess our sophomore students. If they meet standards their scores are “banked,” and any student not meeting standards will take the assessment again as a junior after the opportunity to learn. With the AMO program, schools are assessed on points that might mean we would be assessing all sophomores and juniors, which would double our assessment time in comparison to the current system. Finally, the change to AMOs is based on the switch to Common Core Standards. These standards will be mandated to be in place next year, and are dramatically different than our current state standards. Right now, we have no idea how these standards will be addressed on state assessments.

All in all, next year will be a year of great learning and transition both for our students and our staff.

Dr. Ryan Cobbs is principal at Ottawa High School. Email him at or call (785) 229-8020.