WATER VALLEY – A “plan of action” to address test scores and the third grade reading gate at Davidson Elementary School was presented to the public Monday night.
The plan was presented to school board trustees at their Nov. 3 meeting in executive session because individual performance of staff members was expected to be part of the discussion. The presentation was requested by board members the month before after it was disclosed that a large number of third grade students may not be able to read on a proficient level and won’t go on to the fourth grade.
DES Principal Brad Parker began the 30-minute PowerPoint presentation by explaining that in order to educate children we need to know what they need and based on that, what our teachers need. And to get to that point, data accumulated from various assessments is used.
But, school officials have not been informed how well the students will have to read or what the scores must be, Superintendent Kim Chrestman added during the presentation.
“We’re just trying to do our best using the standards that we know,” Parker said. “That’s all we know to do right now.”
Parker continued that based on the assessments and the data compiled, school officials have come up with an academic plan. “Starting with curriculum, we want to create pacing guides to align with Common Core and we have done that.”
He noted that students would have to become familiar with the academic vocabulary. “They need to know words like ‘synthesis’ which to us is common sense. But a third grader or fifth grader may not necessarily know what synthesis means.”
Parker said that one of the goals is to create common assessments within each grade. In other words, a test in each of that grades’ classes would look similar and be graded the same way. “We’ll be teaching the same material in each class.”
The length of tests will be increased to improve students’ endurance for test taking because the new assessments are rather lengthy, he said. “Three, four, five, six pages of reading. Kids need to be able to do that without getting tired.”
The principal continued that procedures and timelines were being developed for the intervention process. “Right now we’re taking our bottom 25 percent based on our tests we did in August for interventions and our urgent interventions for our 10 percent or below.”
Teaching assistants are being used for these interventions, he said, and added that progress monitoring is done every two weeks. “Our goal is to pull some of the bottom 25 percent up.”
Parker said that in order to meet the goals, teachers are undergoing regular staff development sessions. “Every week we’re working on something new. We’ve had some teachers go to workshops and they are presenting to other teachers to give them some good ideas to take to the classroom.”
“We’re training our teachers to track our students’ growth using the result of online assessments and data,” he said.
Administrators are also focusing on the school culture. “We want our teachers to have a positive outlook and to have high morale. We want teachers to have input on what they are doing in their own classrooms.”
Parker presented a wish list of what is needed to help accomplish the goals including an interventionist to help teachers identify students reading deficiencies. Also needed, he said, is a curriculum coordinator to help align the curriculum at both DES and the high school.
One of the problems faced at the school is that resources are stretched thin. “We’re doing as well as we can, but I don’t feel we are doing as well as we need to.”
“We have to give our teachers what they need.” he emphasized. “That can give our students what they need. That’s our ultimate goal; to grow our kids and make them successful.”
At the end of the presentation, recommendations were made for parents in order for them to help their children with their schoolwork.
“One of the best things they can do is attend the meetings,” said Chrestman, referring to sessions scheduled by the school for parents. “The teachers can explain the curriculum, the testing and what is happening in the classroom so they (the parents) can work with their children and become more familiar with the educational process.”
Trustee Pierce Epes also gave a warning to parents that grades would be changing to better reflect how students are performing. “If you are a basic or minimal student, you are not making straight As. The classroom grades will align with what we’re seeing on the state standardized tests.”
Parker said that school administrators are flexible and are willing to meet with parents to help resolve problems. “We want to meet with parents and that’s already happening.”
Trustee Casey Washington said that it is important for the community to understand that school administrators are working to identify problems that are causing students to not do well on the state assessments. He reiterated the warning from Epes that children who were bringing home As may start getting Bs and Cs.