By Matthew Tungate
Just as all ships rise with the tide, better educating all students will fill the achievement gap, according to teachers and principals at schools that made the most progress in reducing achievement gaps on the latest state achievement test.
Principal Steve Jenkins and teachers at Pilot View Elementary (Clark County) pay little attention to whether students are in a group that has traditionally performed lower on state assessments than their peers.
“They don’t look at a kid and go, ‘These are the barriers,’” he said. “We just look at every kid and try to make sure they’re all getting the same education as best as we can give it.”
Principal David Ward said he and his staff at Auburn Elementary School (Logan County) feel the same way.
“The teachers are pretty much ‘blind’ to the free or reduced-price lunch status. We look at all of our students as they learn,” he said. “It’s a priority here at Auburn that every single student, regardless of whether they’re in the gap or not, be pushed to be their best and learn.”
To assure that all students are college- and career-ready, Kentucky Department of Education officials designed the state’s Unbridled Learning accountability model to hold schools and districts accountable for how all student groups perform on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests. Student gap groups are based on ethnicity/race (African American, Hispanic, Native American), special education, poverty (free/reduced-price meals) and limited English proficiency.
Schools and districts receive a scored based on the percentage of students in one or more gap groups that score proficient or distinguished on the K-PREP. Students’ scores are only counted once, even if they belong to more than one gap group.
Based on the 2011-12 K-PREP results, gap scores averaged 40.5 for elementary schools, 37.9 for middle schools and 28.8 for high schools.
Pilot View Elementary and Auburn Elementary scored well above those averages. About 71 percent of Pilot View gap students scored proficient or distinguished, while 65.5 percent of middle school students did the same at Auburn Elementary, which is a preschool through 8th grade school.
Jenkins said more than half of his school’s 140 students fit into one or more gaps.
“A gap kid is not considered a gap kid here because every kid is just a kid,” he said. “Every kid is a gap kid in their (teachers’) eyes.”
In three of the five subject areas in which students are tested on K-PREP, students in the poverty gap group at Pilot View did better than those not in the group, Jenkins said.
“So that’s why our gap is where it’s at – because there’s not a designation, there’s not a difference really,” he said.
Third-grade teacher Tonya Duncan said certified and classified staff at Pilot View have the same high expectations for all students.
“We understand that there are circumstances in these children’s lives that may affect some things, but we don’t allow excuses, we do not let that cripple them,” she said. “We make sure that they are getting the same education as every student.”
About half of the middle school students at Auburn Elementary fit in at least one gap group, Ward said.
“That’s why we don’t focus on targeting gap students,” he said. “We target them all, which really is the best thing to do for all students, I think.”
Schools that focus on raising achievement for all students with supports and interventions based on individual need have the best results with students who are part of gap groups, said Claude Christian, coordinator of the Commissioner’s Raising Achievement/Closing Gaps Council at the Kentucky Department of Education.
“If you address the needs of all your students, that’s the easiest way to close a gap,” he said. “Everything that we’ve done that has been successful points right back in that direction.”
The council produced 10 recommendations in 2011 to help schools and districts close their achievement gaps, Christian said. Each school has to work with its own students to find the solution to closing its gaps because gaps will vary from school to school, he said.
“We have to make sure that we’re closing gaps. We make sure that we’re closing gaps by making sure that we’re looking at the needs of the students that are showing up in the gaps identified by the test scores,” Christian said. “But there’s not a gap curriculum.”
Pilot View and Auburn elementaries, which both also had achievement scores among the top in the state, said they offer all students a variety of enrichments and interventions when needed.
Student in kindergarten through 3rd grade at Pilot View receive an extra 30 minutes three days per week to focus on reading and mathematics, and every adult in the building, except intermediate teachers, leads one of the groups, Jenkins said.
“If they’re not ready by 3rd grade, we don’t want to send them on to 4th grade unless they’re firing on all cylinders,” he said.
Fifth-grade teacher Ninya Sallee said her highest-level readers work with a former high school teacher three days a week. Jenkins said the school uses Title I money to pay for three retired teachers to work with students three days a week.
Sallee said she still feels blessed to work at the school even after 30 years.
“At this school, every moment with the students is intentional and aligned with the standards. With that, you use common sense. If something doesn’t work, you find a strategy that does. You have to have fun along the way.”
At Auburn, each teacher focuses on each student every day and can immediately place where each student is academically by using formative assessments in every lesson, Ward said.
“Intervention doesn’t have to happen in a separate class – it can happen right on the spot,” he said. “Intervention’s not a class – it’s part of every lesson.”
But the school does use many intervention techniques. Those include:
Discovery Education assessments (formerly ThinkLink)
STAR Enterprise, which includes Accelerated Reader
About 25 percent of the school’s 241 students participate in some sort of intervention during the year, Ward said.
Special education teacher Krystal Martin said the school also has students set goals, break down standards with “I can” statements, set learning targets and allow students to prove mastery in a variety of ways even after taking a formative assessment.
Pilot View and Auburn elementaries sound like they are taking the necessary steps to close their achievement gaps, Christian said.
“When a teacher stops teaching the class and starts teaching each student, the gap will close,” he said. “We advocate teaching to the needs of all students.”
Claude Christian, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 564-3791, ext. 4031