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Making the grade?

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By The Staff

Great things are happening in Marion County Public Schools, according to Superintendent Donald Smith, but recently released test scores show that some of its students, and three of its seven schools, are falling behind.

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Last week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) released test scores, which showed that local African American students are struggling in mathematics and students with disabilities are falling behind in reading.

Test results also show that three of seven schools didn't meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) goals. Marion County High School, St. Charles Middle School and A.C. Glasscock Elementary School fell short, and because this was the second consecutive year SCMS didn't meet NCLB requirements, the district will be required to give school choice to SCMS students. SCMS students will be allowed to transfer to Lebanon Middle School if their parents so choose. (A letter will be sent home to parents.)

Smith said, while the situation at SCMS concerns him, he would like to remind the public that the district has been in this position before.

"We've been in this position before and we were able to come out with flying colors," he said. "Lebanon Middle School was in this same boat."

In 2007, LMS had not met its goals for its second consecutive year and its students were offered school choice. In response, the district focused a great deal of its resources at LMS and the recently released test scores are proof of that. During the past four years, LMS has made double-digit gains in all areas - with the exception of science, in which it has fallen slightly behind.

"LMS is the most diverse school in the district, aside from the high school, and it made the biggest gains," Smith said. "It's unbelievable and we have to celebrate that."

Smith said the district will be concentrating its efforts and resources at SCMS, just like it did for LMS, and that he is confident they will be able to turn things around.

On a brighter note, all four elementary schools made gains in the areas of math and reading. Smith said the district must find a way to sustain the momentum that is started with students in elementary school at the middle and high school levels.

"The No. 1 factor is how can we get students to take more rigorous courses at an earlier age? If they don't take those type of courses earlier, they will be intimidated once they get to middle and high school," he said.

While Glasscock Elementary did improve its math and reading scores, it did not meet its goals in the areas of science, social studies and writing.

Marion County High School also did not meet all of its NCLB goals, specifically in reading and math, for the second year. MCHS is not a Title 1 school, but the school is eligible for state assistance. However, Smith learned during a conference call with officials from KDE that there is no state funding available to help the high school or any other school this year.

"The high school made progress but it was not enough," Smith said. "Students moved from novice to apprentice, but under NCLB standards schools are only given credit if a child scores proficient or distinguished." 

According to Smith, he, the central office staff and school principals are working together to ensure that next year's goals will be obtained.

"We cannot sit still," Smith said in a written statement. "The goal continues to increase every year. It is a moving target."

He said the district level administrators plan to work with each school, especially those that did not meet their goals, and he plans to meet with each principal individually to discuss scores and their individual needs. He also plans to meet with each school based decision-making council to review test data and ask for their input on the next steps that should be taken.

Smith said he is encouraged that, while not every school in the district met its goals, local schools are above the state average in many areas, including math and on-demand writing.

Marion County Board of Education Chairwoman Sister Kay Carlew said the district, as a whole, has a lot to celebrate but still much work to do.

"The data indicates we are leaving our students with disabilities behind, as well as our low socioeconomic students, especially our African American students," she said in a written statement. "I know this same scenario is happening across the U.S., however, we can't use this as an excuse... It will take all of us working together, the Marion County Board, principals, teachers and staff to assure that all Marion County students graduate college and career-ready."

CALVARY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Calvary Elementary School experienced gains in the areas of reading, and on-demand writing. Principal Pam Marks said she and her staff were excited to have accomplished a 20 percent gain in proficient/distinguished student performance in writing on-demand.

"We see ourselves as a writing school," she said. "CES teachers value the importance of teaching writing, and writing is taught rigorously in every grade level.

Marks and her staff were also elated to see reading gains for the third consecutive year.

"Reading is another school-wide emphasis, and it has been for several years at CES," she said. "We attribute our reading success to maximizing the use of support staff in all classrooms throughout the day so that all students have low teacher-pupil ratios for reading instruction."

A subject area that needs improvement at CES is social studies, Marks said. CES experienced a 10-point drop in that area.

"We recognize that we need to do a better job school-wide with social studies instruction. With input from CES teachers, the SBDM council will revise the comprehensive school improvement plan to include a plan for increasing rigor in social studies. We know that we must intensify regular rigorous social studies instruction in our fourth grade classrooms."

All in all, Marks and the CES staff are pleased with the test results, Marks said.

"But, we know that we can continue to improve," she said.

LEBANON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

After experiencing a slight decline last year, the Lebanon Elementary School staff was determined to turn things around.

"We identified those students that were struggling and did what was necessary to help them improve," Principal Donna Royse said. "We developed a new school improvement plan that helped us stay focused on what is important."

Their work paid off this year, with LES experiencing gains in reading, math, science and writing on-demand.

The only decline the school experienced was in social studies, which was a trend throughout the state.

"Even though social studies declined statewide, we cannot allow that to continue. We must see that all grade levels are doing their social studies content," Royse said. "We must also increase the rigor and relevance of social studies instruction so that our students can understand its importance and perform better on the test in the future."

According to Royse, LES will be making some changes in its school improvement plan to assure that social studies is a priority.

Royse said she is very excited and pleased with the students at LES, and she hopes that the school can continue on this upward trend.

"We continue to have high expectations for all of our students, regardless of their socio-economic status, race or disability," she said. 'We develop strong relationships with our students so that they see that we care and want to help them." 

GLASSCOCK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

GES experienced declines in every area, including more than an 18-point decline in science and nine-point declines in social studies and writing on-demand. Its math scores were within one point of the 2009 score.

The scores were a complete surprise to Principal Lee Ann Divine and her staff.

"No one at GES expected the significant drops we have in the scores," she said. "Our other end-of-year tests did not show these type of drops."

Divine said her biggest concerns are getting reading, science and on-demand writing back on track and moving upward.

"We are not satisfied with only 71 percent of our students reading at a proficient level," she said. "We are definitely not satisfied with less than half of our students performing at the proficient level in science or writing. Our students are capable of much more than this. We must also keep in mind that the goals are increasing every year and now that we have gotten behind, we have even more ground to cover to meet our goals next year."

To address the problems immediately, the staff at GES is doing weekly "learning checks" to identify exactly which areas students are struggling in, Divine said. GES is also using its daytime extended school services (ESS) program to target struggling students in reading and math, she said. The school also has a more experienced science teacher on staff, and is changing the way it teaches on-demand writing, Divine said.

"GES teachers are going to observe teachers in other schools with successful writing programs and see how these strategies could work in our building," she said.

GES teachers and the school council will also be creating a new school improvement plan, Divine said.

And while she knows GES is a great school, the scores have disappointed Divine and her staff.

"As we look at the scores the teachers and I are able to easily identify students who should have performed better than they did," she said. "Data desegregation has shown that there was not one grade level or one group of students who caused the drop in scores. It was a combination of things. Now our job is to figure out exactly where the problems lie and find solutions."

WEST MARION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

West Marion Elementary School experienced gains in reading, science and writing on-demand. Principal Benjamin Mattingly was especially impressed with the school's achievement of increasing the number of proficient/distinguished scores among students with disabilities.

"We are working very hard to close different gaps so that every student continues to makes strides towards improvement and proficiency," he said.

WMES has put a huge focus on the area of reading and we try to make sure that the school provides its primary students with extra literacy support and smaller teacher to student ratios.

WMES experienced a very slight decline in math and more than an 18-point decline in social studies, which was a huge surprise for Mattingly and his staff.

"We have always done very well in this area and were very surprised that it went down that much," he said. "But we will hold our heads up high, identify the areas that need to be improved and work very diligently to improve those areas."

All in all, Mattingly was pleased with the test results.

"I know that our students, staff and parents worked very hard to do their best throughout the school year and that is all that I can ask for," he said. "With the areas that we didn't improve in, we will figure out what we need to do and work together to improve those areas. As the school leader, I know that it isn't just one person that educates a child but a whole village and I am very proud of everyone in our village and family."

LEBANON MIDDLE SCHOOL

Lebanon Middle School made double-digit gains in reading, math, social studies and writing on-demand. Principal Todd Farmer is very proud.

"Our school motto is 'Expect Success at LMS', which reflects the attitudes and approach we take towards academics," he said. "Our high expectations for learning is observed in every class... Our number one priority is building relationships with students, and with a strong sense of unity and pride we can accomplish any and all goals."

As mentioned earlier, LMS has come a long way since 2007, when it failed to meet its academic goals for the second consecutive year and its students were offered school choice.

One subject area that still needs some work, however, is science, which declined by 14-points.

"Science is the area that needs the most attention, so we have developed a plan that addresses those concerns," Farmer said. "The plan includes more reading and writing with an emphasis on critical thinking skills."

And, even with the decline in science, Farmer said he and his staff are thrilled with the test results.

"We will continue to build relationships and academic rigor in finding success for all students," he said. "With great students and staff, Lebanon Middle School is truly a school to watch for in the future."

ST. CHARLES MIDDLE SCHOOL

St. Charles experienced declines in every area except for science, where it experienced more than a four-point gain.

However, when looking at the test scores more closely, Principal John Brady pointed out that gains were also made with sixth and seventh grade math, seventh grade reading and seventh grade science. Those gains were achieved because the climate in those classrooms was "conducive to learning," according to Brady.

However, there were significant decreases with eighth grade reading, eighth grade math, and eighth grade social studies, which didn't come as a surprise to Brady.

"I knew there were difficulties during the 2009-10 school year that would have a negative effect on our assessment performance," he said.

Brady and the school staff have already taken measures to begin making improvements, including implementing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and the "Second Step" program to help address cultural issues. Brady also said SCMS has reduced class size in many classrooms to allow for more individualized instruction and assistance. And the school has increased its number of seventh grade students in pre-algebra and added math reinforcement classes to the curriculum.

"We will be working with district-level administrators to examine different aspects of our school and to create a viable improvement plan," Brady said.

Brady said he is disappointed with the test scores but is confident things will improve.

"I am disappointed in this setback with our assessment data and the staff of SCMS will examine it and implement improvement strategies," he said. "I fully expect our school to see an improvement with assessment results for this school year based upon improvements already implemented, working with district-level administrators, and with what I have already observed for this current school year."

MARION COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL

Marion County High School experienced declines in every area, and according to former MCHS Principal and Assistant Superintendent Taylora Schlosser, there is a great deal to improve upon, especially in math and science.

Schlosser reviewed the test data with the high school's staff last week. The next step will be the school council's review of the data and new goals will be set for the school.

"Each content team will review test scores, look at individual student scores and decide next steps, which could include working with individual students for remediation, revising curriculum and determining what instructional practices are working and not working," Schlosser said.

Schlosser said she is disappointed in the test results, but pointed out that they are only one indicator of how a school is performing. MCHS has done well in other areas, Schlosser said, including performing above the state average on the ACT exam, having 124 students receive a qualifying score on Advanced Placement exams, and improving the graduation rate from 82 percent to 90 percent.

"There are several indicators that determine a good school," Schlosser said. "No matter the indicator, I know the staff at the high school will work hard to make gains in all areas... and most importantly graduating students ready for the real world."

However, results show that only 38 percent of the 2009-10 graduating class (212 graduates) was college or career ready. The school's goal is 69 percent by 2014.

Schlosser said the school must do a better job of preparing children for the real world, especially when it comes to reading and math.

"As assistant superintendent, I am concerned about the math scores," she said. "I believe that our district must prepare more students for Algebra 1 in the eighth grade."

Schlosser said, by having students take more advanced courses in middle school, it will carry over when they enter high school and they will be more prepared to take AP courses.

"AP courses are rigorous," she said. "These courses prepare students to graduate from postsecondary. The conversation must change from getting into a college or tech school to graduating from those post secondary institutions."

The high school must also promote strong literacy, Schlosser said.

"With only 15 percent of the jobs in Marion County requiring college degrees, this indicates that 85 percent or less of the jobs are in the technical field," she said. "Studies have proven that technical reading is the most difficult type of reading required. As a school district, we need to graduate students prepared to read at a high level."