It’s a basic philosophy — give students high expectations, and they will work to meet them.
“I think the general culture of high expectations works very well in our favor, and keeps everybody focused and working,” Eminence Middle and High School principal Steve Frommeyer said.
Those expectations are reflected in some of the school’s grading policies — the no D policy, and what is soon to be the no C policy.
The seeds for the policies were planted when the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in the 1990s.
At the time, Frommeyer said, the mindset in middle schools, in general, was that students could fail one or two classes a year, and still get promoted.
“That’s what was happening,” he said, “middle school kids were doing little or nothing, but they could still get promoted.”
When the middle school was formed in 1990 at Eminence, Frommeyer said, the administration took a seemingly radical approach. “We said they’re going to have to at least pass all their classes to get promoted.”
Though administrators worried about retention, they would come to realize that failure not being an option wasn’t enough, as many students were aiming for Ds. The administration felt, and knew, the students could do better.
“At that time, it was clear that it was due to effort,” Frommeyer said. The policy soon went from not accepting failure, to not accepting Ds. Then, the discussion switched to KERA’s goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.
“If we are supposed to have everybody at proficient by 2014, then at some point we’ve got to expect that in the classroom,” he said. “If that’s the expectation for the kids on the CATS test, then they’ve got to do that in the classroom, and we started pushing for the no-C (policy).”
Frommeyer said C-level work is approximately equal to apprentice level scores, or average work. He added that the world has changed since the 1990s, and employers in particular won’t be looking for average employees. “For our kids to be competitive on the world job market, they’ve got to be proficient,” he said. “If we don’t have them prepared for that, we’re leaving them behind the eight ball in terms of getting better jobs.”
Students, he said, said they weren’t getting As and Bs because they just didn’t want to.
“We still believe to this day, that it’s all about attitude and effort.”
There are safety nets in place for students with disabilities, and Frommeyer said students with disabilities could still pass with a D or a C, so long as they have “A/B effort in attitude.”
While there is a gap between students with and without disabilities, Frommeyer said, the gap that is the biggest for Eminence is one between male and female students — something for which schools are not held accountable for under federal No Child Left Behind results. But that, he said, is fairly common.
“It’s an American cultural problem,” Frommeyer said. “The colleges are made up mostly of girls. Even the CATS testing program favors girls (more than) boys).”
Girls, he said, tend to be wired to provide more detail, while boys will get straight to the point. In a portfolio piece or an open response question, detail is critical. Frommeyer added that there are “cross-over” brains — girls who do well at math and science, and boys who do well with writing and the arts.
In general, school is geared more toward girls, though that’s not always the case. By nature, he said, boys present more of a challenge — boys make up the largest number of suspensions and discipline referrals at all schools.
Boys are particularly challenged, he said, because of the mixed signals society projects about what it means to be a man. Enter character education.
All Eminence High School students must pass, in order to graduate, a character education class, and there’s a larger emphasis on character education for athletes.
“The character part is big because boys will come on board and stay out of trouble, and stay more focused on school work if you push that maturity process a little bit,” Frommeyer said.
There were few surprises in the scores, in no small part because of the grading policy.
“The whole mindset is that if you’re making an A or a B, you should be on the CATS test proficient or distinguished,” Frommeyer said. “So, when we look at how the kids are performing in our classes at that time of the year, we have a really good idea of how they can score on the test.”
He went on to say that about 90 percent of the time, a student’s final grade in a class was comparable to their score on the CATS test.
As many educators are, Frommeyer said the staff at Eminence was pleased with the scores, and the direction in which the school is heading.
The high school’s scores went up overall, while the middle school’s scores held steady.
Frommeyer said the high school’s scores were a particular bright spot as the school was ranked 13th out of 175 districts. That could not be verified by information released by the state, however, as Eminence’s school entry is a joint entry for grades K-12.
Several scores at the high school increased on significant scoring jumps.
Scores at the middle school, however, declined, though the school still has a non-adjusted index of 92.1. The high school’s unadjusted index rose two points to 88.3.
Reading scores at the middle school fell slightly, from more than 101 points in 2007 to 95.4 in 2008, while scores at the high school also fell from 107.5 in 2007 to 96.6 in 2009.
Frommeyer said that traditionally, reading is one of Eminence’s strong points. While scores did drop among most demographics, sixth grade boys increased by more than a point. Despite the overall decline, EMS’ seventh and eighth grade reading scores were better than the state average.
Frommeyer described math scores as a rollercoaster, but one the entire state rides — not just Eminence.
At the middle school, scores were a mixed bag with sixth grade girls jumping more than eight points, while boys dropped by six, creating a 21.5-point gap in favor of the girls. Among seventh graders, scores for students not approved for free/reduced lunch increased, while all other demographic groups declined. Eighth grade math scores declined across the board, including a 16.3-point drop for boys, and a 17.9-point drop for students approved for free-reduced lunch.
Frommeyer said that math is one content area where teachers are doing a particulalry good job at incorporating technology. In fact, the high school’s one integrated classroom is its math class room, home to teacher Buddy Berry.
“It’s motivating to the kids, and those teachers are very strong in technology and using that to teach math in very effective ways,” Frommeyer said.
Science, edged ever closer to 100, jumping 5.8 points to 96 at the middle school, while high school science scores declined slightly.
Among middle school students, girls scores jumped nearly 13 points to 103.1, while boys declined slightly. Students approved for free or reduced lunch fell slightly, while students not approved for the program jumped from 99.9 in 2007 to 115.5 in 2008.
Eminence Middle School built upon an already strong score of 101.9 in 2007 to 106.6 in 2008. The increase came on another strong performance by the school’s female students, who went from an even 110 in 2007 to 114.4 this year. Boys declined, but by little more than one point.
Frommeyer said that with a program called “History Alive,” a teaching strategy that incorporates more hands on activities, teachers were able to connect more with students.
Arts & Humanities
Arts and humanities scores remain strong at the middle and high shcool levels, despite declining. At the middle school, the scores dropped from 106.9 to just under 100 at 99.6. At the high school, the score slipped very little, going from 101.7 in 2007 to 100.9 in 2008.
Practical Living/Vocational Studies
Practical living scores for both schools increased, with the middle school increasing almost two points to 90.3, and the high school leaping almost 13 points up to 105.3
On-Demand and Portfolio Writing
At the middle school, scores for both writing areas declined — portfolio scores dropped 6.5 points to 89.17, while on-demand writing scores dropped by 4.8 points to 88.11.
At the high school, however, scores jumped 11.3 points to 101.3 for portfolio writing, and 12.5 points to 79.5 for on-demand writing.
Frommeyer praised the school’s writing teachers for their work.
“We have no novice (portfolios) in high school, and just one or two in the middle school,” Frommeyer said, noting that eliminating novice scores were crucial.
He added that students will not be passed or promoted in a class if they have a novice portfolio.
While there was just one novice in portfolio writing for the middle school, there were three novice scores in on-demand writing.
The lack of novice portfolios among the high school students was reflected in an average portfolio score that beat the state by 23 points. Just one student had a novice score in on-demand writing at the high school.
While being a small school does allow Eminence more individual attention, Frommeyer said the middle school’s class sizes aren’t terribly different from other middle schools with about 25 students in each class. The high school, however, does tend to have smaller classes.
But being a small district has its drawbacks — particularly in regard to financing. Frommeyer said that over the years, the number of instructional assistants has dwindled as funding has to be stretched further and further.
The biggest challenge, however, is time.
Teachers have only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to cover content each day, and some teachers will have students just once a week.
100 by 2014
Frommeyer is confident the middle and high schools will meet 100 percent proficiency by 2014. That benchmark is one of two goals for the school.
The other is to have at least 90 percent of students earning a certificate of advanced mastery. The award is given to graduating seniors who had not just good test scores, but reflect “our mission of world class, well rounded kids, test scores, attendance, behavior, leadership, school activities, and so forth.”
Frommeyer said about 45 percent of the students have earned the award. “Trying to get to that 90 or higher on the CAM is a more ambitious goal, and that’s what we want for all our kids.
For 2009, Frommeyer hopes to see the high school advance into the 90s on its accountability index, and for the middle school to continue to improve.
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