Elmore County Schools has improved its performance on the Alabama Report Card and local educators have been working to ensure progress each year.
Comparing the scores on the 100-point scale from last year to this year, Elmore County improved by six points to an 88 and is two points away from an A. In comparison, Alabama improved by four points to an 84 and remained at a B.
“It is like moving a huge ship,” Elmore County Schools director of professional learning and development Amy Harrison said. “There are a lot of moving parts and it started with the district and the principals.”
According to Harrison, what the school system found as it dug into student achievement data is pockets of students who were growing academically and pockets of students who were not growing academically.
“The last three years we’ve gone up from an 80 to an 82 and now an 88,” Elmore County Schools superintendent Richard Dennis said. “We jumped six points this past year which is positive. Are we satisfied? No. We want an A.
“We gave principals as much data as we possibly could. When you start drilling down, there is a group at the top that carries the load. We drilled down and can target the groups that need the academic help.”
According to Dennis, the main goal of the school system is to meet each student where he or she is at in his or her academic understanding and grow it with tailored instruction.
One way Wetumpka Elementary School is engaging students where they are from an academic standpoint involved a pizza party where parents played a role.
The parents moved from station to station to get information and support on how to help their students based on areas where the students need help.
Today, technology can play a big part in helping classroom teachers deliver lessons based on each student’s current academic level.
“This year we are integrating more technology,” Dennis said. “What that means is if I have a class of 25 students, we have software programs that work with the students on their individual academic level. We have to be very intentional with challenging students who are at different levels.”
One way the school system is improving academically is by focusing heavily on reading comprehension. Using technology, reading programs are specific to each student’s reading level.
“The challenge I see us facing now is putting more emphasis on reading skills,” Dennis said. “There’s a new assessment that we will use to evaluate students. It is a little more rigorous for us and it is needed.”
Dennis challenges the school’s principals to treat education like most Alabamians treat football in the state.
“What that means is on a high school football team nobody gets cut,” he said. “Even if they are on the sideline not starting, they are out there. We do not cut anybody. That’s the way we want to treat education.”
Millbrook Middle School principal Ayena Jackson set out to improve her school’s scores after it posted an overall score of 74 on the state report card three years ago.
“I knew that number did not equate to the work the students were doing here,” Jackson said. “One thing I saw other schools had was a plan. We looked at our students who were underperforming and put them on a plan.”
She said classroom teachers focused on the standards the students lacked through small group work, tailored software programs and quick quizzes.
“We went from a 74 to an 85,” she said. “This year we went from an 85 to an 87 on the overall score.”
The school system is getting school librarians involved in bettering their students’ academic understandings, too.
“We are really looking at librarians as an untapped resource,” Harrison said. “Many librarians are now collaborating with teachers to deliver STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lessons or reading lessons. We want kids to be able to think, discover the answers on their own and not be afraid to make mistakes.”
While posting positive gains on mandated testing is a plus, Dennis wants parents and stakeholders to understand the bigger picture.
“The way I look at assessments is you don’t work for the test,” he said. “The test score is a byproduct of what we are attempting to achieve. We need all our students to be sound in reading, communicate effectively and have a good foundation in math and science. They have to have strong fundamentals.”