Local districts among state's most improved

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Exeter and Southwest school districts made Missouri's list of most improved schools based on the percentage of students who moved into higher levels of achievement on their Missouri Achievement Program (MAP) tests.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) tracks districts' MAP scores and annually ranks schools as "highest performing" or "most improved" based on a five-year average on the MAP test.

In the Top 10 most improved category, Exeter Elementary School was listed as one of the most improved small schools (enrollment under 250) in seventh grade communication arts and eighth grade math.

Southwest Middle School made the Top 10 most improved list among middle-sized schools (enroll-ment between 250 and 500) for its test scores in seventh grade communications arts.

At Exeter, 21.4 percent more students in 2005 tested at the proficient and advanced levels on the eighth grade math MAP test than did in 2001. Seventh grade communica-tions art students at Exeter made even greater strides in their MAP testing. According to DESE, 47.8 percent more students tested at the proficient and advanced levels on the seventh grade communication arts MAP test at Exeter than did in 2001.

Southwest seventh grade communication arts students also were able to better their MAP test results. The number of students testing at the proficient and advanced levels rose by 19 percent.

Exeter excels

Tina Nolan, Exeter Elementary School principal, is very proud of her students' performance on the latest round of MAP testing. She credits qualified teachers, involved parents and a supportive superintendent and school board with bolstering student success.

"Mr. (Larry) Wood, our superintendent, and our school board have been very supportive," said Nolan. "They've stood behind us and funded whatever we've asked for. They also have provided rewards to keep our students motivated. Everyone has been awesome."

Nolan is also quick to give credit to Christy Hermansen, middle school communication arts teacher, Sheralee Elton, middle school reading teacher, and Kelli Rogers, middle school math teacher.

"With math, it's been important to have a consistently qualified teacher," said Nolan. "In the past, Exeter has had trouble getting quality teachers and keeping them. Our lack of turnover has really helped us."

Adoption of the Everyday Math program for kindergarten through sixth grades has also provided students with a strong math foundation going into the more advanced middle school and high school math classes, Nolan said.

"Everyday Math provides our students with consistency," Nolan said. "The same objectives are taught and reinforced so students are able to move up to upper level math with a more solid foundation."

Everyday Math was first introduced at the start of the 2001-02 school year.

Exeter School also sponsors quarterly Math Nights and Reading Nights in an attempt to involve parents with their children's education. During these family-oriented sessions, parents can learn more about school curriculum, meet with teachers and gain understanding to help their students with homework and special projects.

"We also offer math and reading tutoring every day after school for students who need extra help with math," Nolan said.

In addition to math, Exeter has also focused on the district's historically low scores on the communication arts section of the MAP tests.

One way the district chose to address this deficiency was by adding an hour of reading for all sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. Now Exeter middle school students are required to take one communications arts class and one reading class during their middle school years.

"We created a special class at the middle school that focuses on nothing but reading," said Nolan. "Every student now has two hours of instruction in communication arts instead of one."

Nolan is also excited about Exeter's Reading First program, which is made possible through funding from the district and helps support the district's overall communication arts program.

"We did not get the state Reading First grant, but the board funded the program we had written anyway because they believed in it so much," Nolan said.

The program is used in kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms. Its purpose is to utilize scientifically based reading instruction to ensure students are reading at or above grade level.

Funds provided by the school board were used to purchase curriculum and provide for teachers' training.

In addition to adopting curriculum and initiating programs aimed at improving math and communication arts skills, Exeter School also provides its students with incentives for doing well on the MAP test.

Students who score in the proficient or advanced level on the MAP test or who move up one level are rewarded for their efforts. This year, the district is planning to take these high achievers to Silver Dollar City.

Southwest success

Southwest Superintendent Richard Asbill said the fact that Southwest Middle School was among the state's most improved when it came to student performance on the seventh grade communication arts MAP test was a direct reflection of the district's improvement plan. This plan was set in place three to four years ago and has served as the district's blueprint in preparation for the fourth round of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) review cycle.

"This goes back to our district improvement plan that the teachers and students have worked very hard to follow," said Asbill.

All faculty members have contributed to increasing student performance on the MAP tests, but at the middle school level, Asbill gives special credit to Stephanie Reeser, Suzanne Williams, Stephanie Cole, Pat Rippetoe and Kara Hendrix for their efforts in MAP preparation. Asbill said both Reeser and Cole are no longer teaching at Southwest but played a big role in improving middle school MAP scores.

"Sandra Cunningham (former Southwest Middle School principal) also did a lot of work on this, and Ben Abramovitz (current middle school principal) was very involved as well," Asbill said.

Student performance is the district's top priority, according to Asbill.

"Our MAP scores had to be addressed in order to prepare us for the fourth round of MSIP," Asbill said. "If we could address student performance, we knew other areas, such as curriculum, would fall into place. We have a plan in place that is working.

"This is a positive that has come out of all the hard work of our administrators, teachers and students over the past three to four years," Asbill added.

Southwest and Exeter were the only two districts in Barry County named on the state's Most Improved Schools list.

Again, this list recognizes schools for improvement based on the largest net increase in the combined percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced from 2001 to 2005.

Statewide, 1.7 percent of students in middle school communication arts fell out of the proficient and advanced levels. In middle school math, 0.8 percent of students statewide moved into these top two scoring categories.

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