Turning a school around isn’t easy.
For principals whose schools didn’t make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests in 2007, the pressure was on last school year to bump up student achievement.
Schools that fail to make yearly goals for extended periods of time face restructuring, loss of Title 1 funding and school choice — which means parents may choose to send their children to other schools in the district.
All Danville District 118 elementary schools beefed up literacy coaching and carefully tested all students to support those who needed more help.
Although the success of any school heavily depends on the dedication of students and parents, the principals of schools who celebrated success with their 2008 scores said they’ve still got plenty of work ahead of them.
Brenda Yoho, South View Middle School principal, was principal of Southwest Elementary School last year. Southwest saw a 12.2 percentage point increase in black students’ reading scores for 2008. Those scores kept the school from making its goal in 2007.
The school had an overall gain of 1.5 percentage points in reading, but lost almost three points in math.
Southwest utilized the help of three retired teachers who worked with students in small groups. The school also worked with a reading specialist and taught from Illinois Standards Achievement Test prep books.
Yoho said the school utilized data obtained from ISAT prep tests to examine which students needed help in certain areas. A combination of ensuring that curriculum is aligned with state standards and seeing kids as individuals is the key to success, Yoho said.
The standards that go up by 7.5 percent each year make celebrating any success difficult, she said.
When No Child Left Behind was enacted, each state had the chance to make their own timetable for getting all students to AYP standards by 2014.
Yoho believes Illinois “took the high road” by seeing to it that standards were high every year, although it does make every year challenging for all schools.
South View teachers continue using the tools and plans set forth in the school’s restructuring plan. The plan was designed for this school year because the school hadn’t made academic goals the previous three years. Now, South View doesn’t have to restructure, but the support systems the district implemented will remain.
South View increased its scores for students with disabilities, a category that held them back in 2007 because of attendance and black reading scores that met and exceeded standards went up almost 15 points.
She said the school is determined to continue its test score success.
“(Teachers are) working hard to use every moment of the school day and every resource available to them to achieve that goal,” Yoho said.
Yoho will be able to focus much more of her energy on academic issues if a new school administration manager is placed in the school soon. The school board is likely to vote on the appointment soon.
She admits she has concerns about the declining school population on the south side of Danville. At a board meeting earlier this month, district officials discussed the decrease in students according to ninth day enrollment figures. South View is down 97 students from the same time last year and Southwest is down 76 students from the same time last year.
Overall, the district’s student population is down 2 percent.
“It does worry me,” Yoho admitted.
Most of the students who left the schools, but who would have continued at the buildings otherwise, ended up going to other District 118 schools.
South View families could leave South View because it had been a choice school under No Child Left Behind regulations.
Yoho pointed out that other factors also play a role in the population fluctuation, such as an increase in preschoolers and the high mobility rate of some areas of town — many of which are concentrated in South View’s neighborhoods.
East Park Principal Valerie Gilbert understands how fickle test score data can be. Although her students made AYP this year, they didn’t in 2007.
The school saw a nearly 9 percent gain in meeting and exceeding reading scores, while meeting and exceeding in math went down a bit.
Last year, economically disadvantaged and black students’ reading scores kept the school from meeting standards. In 2008, economically disadvantaged student reading scores that met or exceeded standards went up 11.8 percentage points and black students’ meeting or exceeding in reading went up more than 8 percentage points.
Like other principals in the district, she’s looking forward to carefully examining the specific academic areas where improvement is necessary. The data available from the state now shows only grade level break-downs between math and reading.
East Park also had the aid of retired teachers and a literacy coach, whom Gilbert credits for the school’s success.
Third- through fifth-graders who had borderline reading skills all had an extra 45 minutes of reading per day.
All third-graders who had the extra help made AYP. Nine of 10 fourth-graders who had extra help made AYP as well as nine of 10 of the fifth-graders.
The extra help will continue this year. Each grade level will have a flex period of 20 to 30 minutes that can be used for reading time or enrichment activities. Title I dollars at the school will fund the help of two teaching assistants, whom Gilbert said can make a lot of difference for some kids.
Gilbert also credits a staff that works well together.
“Having teachers work together, sharing ideas that work and ideas that don’t work,” she said. “Lots of teachers here are extraordinary.”
She knows not to get too attached to one year’s success, because many variables go into a year’s worth of test scores.
One group of kids that struggles or are less motivated to do well can make the numbers dramatically different year to year, she said.
Like other Danville schools, East Park has had problems with its high mobility rate. The school has registered students late in the spring who are required to take the ISAT test with all the other students.
“We get students who are two to three years below where they need to be,” she said. “But we’ve been closing that gap.”
Every new school year brings a different set of challenges and a different set of students, she says.
“Each year is kind of a wait-and-see, hold-your-breath until the scores come out … Then you start all over again,” she said.
Turning a school around isn’t easy.
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