Purdy updates improvement plans at schools

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New goals set for student scores, strategies for achievement

Since the beginning of the school year, administrators and faculty at the Purdy School District have redoubled their efforts developing school improvement strategies.

With the introduction of iPads for grades three and up, plus more technology devices added at lower grades, teaching this year has taken on a different look from the past.

"For a while, we've been trying to be very purposeful in what we do, examining our process the the data that comes out of it," said Steven Chancellor, superintendent. "We knew we needed it this year, including a plan for how to use our professional development time."

Bob Vice, high school principal, reported his building has an academic goal of scoring 7-10 percent higher on the end-of-course exams this year. In algebra 1, having 25 percent of students score proficient or above became the new goal. In American history, the target was 50 percent scoring proficient or above. Teachers have analyzed mandatory and voluntary test scores and course assessments.

To meet the needs of at-risk students who may be failing classes or have poor attendance, each at-risk high school student was assigned to a faculty advisor at the beginning of the year. Students see the advisors on Monday mornings, and for 20-minute meetings every Monday during eighth hour. Sessions provide a comprehensive assessment.

"If a student has a relationship with at least one adult and checks in, that has a positive benefit," Chancellor said.

High school students have also received an administrative password and can go to campus computers and track their own progress. Vice was optimistic that gains would show over time. Data would be kept from year to year to provide a timeline for a student's development.

A greater effort has started on vertical assessment, tracking students' preparation in core subject areas to make sure they are ready for classes at the next grade level. Middle school and high school teachers, much more than in past years, have increased their discussions over what material is taught and when. Chancellor noted teachers are sharing their codes and shortcuts for classroom routines. Those that don't transfer well from grade to grade, especially as students get older, change at a logical point.

Instruction Coach Mindi Gates reported content teams have developed at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She noted the middle school and high school goals meshed well without additional work, citing common goals. Now, more deliberate planning will make the target more certain.

At the elementary level, faculty targeted a 15 percent improvement in math and communication scores for kindergarten through fourth grades by May 2015. A predictive test was given to students in August, now under review, and a second test will be given in April and May to show whether the goal was met.

Elementary and middle school principal Janet Boys said the middle school staff started leadership teams to discuss test data and address concerns. They developed plans for disciplne, parental involvement and academic performance.

To better track student progress, Boys said middle school students now take acuity tests in December, instead of only looking at state tests taken once a year in April or May. Subjects not tested by the state, such as social studies, will now have tests taken to document student learning.

An additional effort has started to help students transition better, Boys said. Faculty has begun looking more closely at the changes between elementary (fourth grade) and middle school, and then to high school, looking for ways to make the move work better.

At the elementary level, Boys said the leadership team saw attendance as a major focus. The school now calls a family every day that a student is absent, emphasizing the importance of attendance. Perfect attendance warrants additional recognition during the monthly assembly on character traits. A new goal calls for 40 percent of students to have perfect attendance at the end of each month, and 80 percent will have at least 95 percent average daily attendance by the end of the school year.

The leadership team looked for ways to improve behavior in transition areas, such as in the cafeteria, playground and bathrooms. The additional emphasis has helped, Boys said. Faculty have added several positive behavior reinforcement strategies to increase consistency in student behavior. One such approach includes giving tickets for good behavior. Tickets go into a treasure box for the drawing of a bigger reward. A class meeting expectations can earn extra playground time or, Boys noted, one class chose more iPad time.

Student input has also helped. Boys said during a student advisory meeting, the need for more trash cans in the new part of the cafeteria surfaced as an unknown concern.

Chancellor noted the process to improve has not yet gone through a full cycle. Staff have acted on ideas and as more data becomes available, strategies will change.

"We were probably doing all of this individually before, but not collectively," Chancellor observed. "Now we're being more intentional. We believe it will lead to some good things."

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