By Matthew Tungate
Principal Donna Robinson knew she had to change things when John M. Stumbo Elementary School (Floyd County), traditionally a front-running school under the previous state accountability system, ranked in the middle of the pack on the first results of the Unbridled Learning for All assessment and accountability system last year.
“If you have a flat tire, you don’t wait to fix it,” she said. “So when we found things that we thought would work, we talked about it as a team and they were ready to do them.”
Now, Stumbo Elementary is back to being a high-flyer. The school received an overall accountability score of 76.1, well above the state elementary school average of 57.7. What’s more, it improved its score by 29.6 points – almost 100 times the state elementary school average of 0.3 points.
Public schools and districts earn points on a scale of 0 to 100 based on how well they do on up to five components of the assessment and accountability system. Points are weighted to determine an overall accountability score. Elementary schools are accountable for achievement, gap and growth. Middle schools add college/career-readiness, and high schools add graduation rate. While all schools are expected to make steady improvement in these areas, some schools showed exceptional improvement in one or more areas, according to the 2013 results released last month.
Stumbo Elementary was among the state leaders in improving its overall score and in the area of growth. Robinson said moving teachers into teams and working in professional learning communities was one of the biggest changes that paid off for her school.
“Through our team-level PLCs, we have really been able to make professional growth,” she said. “Our teachers have grown tremendously as individual professionals, and I encourage that for them. So not only are our students growing but our teachers are growing, and our students are reaping the benefits from that.”
She and teachers also went to high-performing schools and looked at strategies that were working there.
“We were kind of like sponges: when we went to these schools, if we saw something that would work, we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we brought it back, had a team meeting, and said, ‘How can we put this in place in our school?’ And we made those changes immediately,” Robinson said.
That included getting students actively engaged in learning and increasing the level of rigor in teachers’ lessons, she said.
Teachers also began giving tests that emulate the state accountability assessment, the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP), Robinson said.
“Throughout the year, every test – whether it was math, reading, science or social studies – was in the same format as the K-PREP test,” she said.
Finally, Robinson said teachers were willing to “name and claim” every student and make changes necessary to help them succeed. So after students took benchmark tests, teachers would ask for schedule changes to allow students more time for the areas in which they were struggling, she said.
Benchmark testing, remediation and retesting also was a cycle at Trimble County High School, according Principal Rachael Adams. Trimble County High improved by nearly five times the state average (43.1 to 8.8) on college- and career-readiness. Trimble County High also bested the state average for high schools, 75 compared to 60.7.
When Adams became principal two years ago, Trimble County High was identified as a persistently low-achieving school and receiving state assistance.
She and staff tracked students on college- and career-readiness measures, then met with each student individually to review assessment data, talk about career goals and discuss how close students were to meeting their goals, Adams said.
She said staff used the data to identify students’ specific areas of deficiency, then provided targeted interventions and reassessed. Then the teachers re-evaluated, provided more interventions and reassessed “until we got them there,” Adams said.
“In order to use that data, you have to have the data. It’s that simple,” she said. “Now I say it’s simple, but it’s not simple. You have to develop the systems to be able to provide that intervention. It’s not simple at all. The idea behind it is simple; the implementation is complicated.”
Adams said the changes have begun creating a culture where students value college- and career-readiness, focusing on their goals and ambitions.
“Creating that culture where students are focused on their own learning and where they value it, that’s as significant as anything,” she said.
School culture is what Eddie Franke, principal at Southgate Independent School, attributes to his elementary school’s 18-point improvement (75.2-57.2) in achievement. That is 60 times the state average elementary improvement of 0.3 points.
Last year, Franke’s first as principal, he met with the full teaching staff to review and update the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan and discovered the need to become more specific and intentional about teaching the standards and also raise students’ expectations of what they were able to achieve.
“Through this collaborative effort teachers became empowered and focused,” he said. “This was sustained throughout the school year and we felt a positive school culture really developing.”
Without a large budget for new programs or educational products, Franke said every employee in the district and the community at large contributed to the improved school climate.
“I am a huge advocate for establishing a positive school climate – creating an environment where staff is valued, are given the opportunity to provide input and then empowered to do the job they have been trained to do; where students are given high expectations but also the persistent support and encouragement to achieve,” he said.
All of the principals agreed that their success also stemmed from increased familiarity with Kentucky’s new standards in English/language arts and mathematics.
“Teacher awareness of standards is the very foundation of school improvement,” said Trimble County High’s Adams.
When she took the job, teachers didn’t have the background they needed to meet the requirements of the new accountability model, she said.
“You have to have a verifiable, viable curriculum that’s based on standards, and so that’s what we tackled at the very beginning of the year,” Adams said.
Frank said just teaching the standards isn’t enough, though. Teachers have to teach to a high level of each standard, he said.
Stumbo Elementary’s Adams agreed, saying her teachers weren’t as familiar or comfortable with the new standards as they needed to be in 2010-11.
“At this point I feel our teachers are very schooled in the standards. They’ve taken the time and really gone through them, set learning targets, activities and assessments to match the standards and make sure that kids master those,” she said. “Two years in now, I definitely feel like our teachers are a lot more comfortable and truly understand how to get the students to perform at mastery levels at each standard.”
MORE INFORMATION …
Rachael Adams, email@example.com, (502) 255-5126
Eddie Franke, firstname.lastname@example.org, (859) 441-0743
Donna Robinson, email@example.com, (606) 587-2212