Jefferson Elementary School Principal Sheryl Robinson knows that working toward change, step by step, leads to improvement.
In the past few years, her staff has taken a hard look at the elementary curriculum and streamlined it to match Missouri’s educational standards. They have encouraged students to read more, and kept track of results in a display on one of Robinson’s office walls. Teachers have evaluated teaching methods and implemented effective strategies.
That approach has resulted in the school’s 2005 third grade class being ranked fourth highest among 1,253 schools across the state in communications arts scores on last year’s Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests. On Friday, the school celebrated by honoring more than 50 members of the class who scored at the &#8220proficient” or &#8220advanced” levels. The students received medals for each individual test in which they scored in the top two of four levels on the standardized tests.
Data released earlier this month by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) shows that 78.6 percent of last year’s third-grade class at the school scored in the top two levels. The state average for that age group was 43.3 percent.
During the ceremony, Robinson thanked teachers, staff and parents for working together to increase the number of high scores. In recent years only a handful of students scored at the top two levels, she told the parents, teachers and children who filled the bleachers in the elementary school gymnasium.
&#8220I think Jefferson is a model for what we (in Farmington) can do,” she said. &#8220We dreamed the impossible last year, and we achieved the impossible.”
It took nearly 45 minutes to hand out all the awards, including a trophy to Ian Jones for getting a perfect score on the math Map test. (Two other students in the class also received a perfect score but have since moved out of the district.) The district plans to honor Ian and six other students with perfect scores in a ceremony planned later this month.
Ian wasn’t sure just how he scored so well, but decided to be nonchalant about his honor.
&#8220Maybe I guessed,” he said. &#8220Maybe I just did it.”
No one left behind
Farmington School District scored above the state average in all the tests required last year by the state. Grades 4-8 and 11 tested in communication arts and grades 3-8 and 10 tested in mathematics.
Jefferson had the highest percentages of proficient and advanced scorers among Farmington schools, including 77. 8 percent in math for last year’s fourth graders and 77.4 percent in math for last year’s third graders.
Under the &#8220No Child Left Behind” legislation, 100 percent of students in the country are expected to score in the two top levels by 2014, said Dr. Judith DeLany, associate superintendent of the district.
&#8220We’re moving in the right direction and in the way we want to go,” DeLany said. &#8220Third and fourth graders are knocking the top off, but there’s room for improvement. We need to help kids who have IEPs (individual education plans for students with special needs) and those who live in poverty.”
Under the &#8220No Child Left Behind” act, schools are expected to have more proficient and advanced scores each year. By 2014, 100 percent of students in every public school district are expected to achieve at least a proficient score in each test. This includes students with learning disabilities and special educational needs.
At first, DeLany was skeptical of the mandate to bring all special ed students – regardless of degree of learning problems – up to the proficient level. But after much deliberation, she realized that if you raise standards and support students with effective teaching strategies, children will rise to the challenge and succeed.
&#8220We’re shooting for 100 percent of those kids to be where they’re supposed to be,” Delany explained. &#8220Every one of our kids deserves to have the same high expectations.”
In addition to MAP scores, each district is scored based on their annual yearly progress (AYP). This ranking includes a breakdown of students into several subcategories such as race, poverty level and special needs. Schools must have a certain number of students in a category for it to be counted as part of the AYP.
For example, in previous years, the African American population in Farmington was too small to qualify as a counted subcategory in the AYP. Last year, the increase in population was enough to qualify it as such.
In 2005, the district had five subcategories, compared to four in recent years. To meet the goal in each subcategory, students in those groups must score higher than the state’s benchmark. The benchmark for communications arts in 2005 was 34.7 percent for communications arts and Farmington had 58.3 percent, DeLany said. In math, the state benchmark was 26.6 percent and Farmington students scored 60.8 percent.
The district met all five goals for the two MAP tests. This was the third year in a row that the district has met both professional goals and the AYP requirements.
Looking for the key
Robinson said the search for a key to success involved a great deal of hard work over the past few years.
&#8220It wasn’t that we didn’t want to reach each child,” she explained. &#8220We didn’t know how to do it with what they gave us. We didn’t have enough time and resources.”
The &#8220No Child Left Behind” act made addressing those issues a priority in schools across the nation.
In Farmington, teachers throughout the district poured through curriculum and evaluated it for each grade to make sure they were teaching according to the MAP requirements. Robinson’s staff found redundancies in curriculum for different grade levels. That meant children were learning some of the same things in different grades. By removing material that did not tie into the Missouri standards and better coordinating subjects among the grades, the faculty were better able to bring students up to expected skill and knowledge levels, Robinson said.
The next step throughout the district is to address individual needs of students who scored below proficiency level and addressing areas of academic weaknesses identified by the MAP testing.
&#8220Now we don’t have to worry if we’re teaching the right thing, because this shows our curriculum is lined up,” Robinson explained. &#8220Now we go back and look at the individual child and convince them why they should care about learning. That’s our big challenge.”
Strategies for helping students who face educational challenges could include differentiated instruction, personalized lesson plans, tutoring and providing enough time for a child to be successful, DeLany said.
&#8220I think we’re seeing a lot of growth with teachers,” she added. &#8220They’re dynamite!”
Robinson and DeLany both pointed out the importance of inspiring students to read as a method to improve scores across the board. That will be one of the main goals this year at Jefferson, Robinson explained.
&#8220If you can get them motivated to read and give them a reason to care about learning, everything falls into place,” she said. &#8220There’s a whole new respect.”