Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about CATS scores for all local schools. The schools will be presented in alphabetical order. Next week, we will look at Eastern Elementary School.
For the first time since the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System began, Campbellsburg Elementary School achieved its testing goal.
While that’s nice, according to Principal Mark Johnson, it’s not quite enough.
“We’re never satisfied, obviously, but we’re happy because we met our goal,” he said. “We’ve always been progressing, so it’s nice to meet goal. But we’re not at 100 yet, and won’t be satisfied until we get that.”
The improvements, Johnson said, are thanks to the district’s focus on “best practices” and “thoughful education.”
He added that a more hands on approach in the classroom has had a significant impact.
“We’re taking into consideration the learning styles of the students, so that way we’re not just hitting one certain population, we’re hitting the strengths of all the students,” Johnson said.
He added that every student at Campbellsburg Elementary is in some form of “intervention” program, not just those students who may be falling behind in a content area.
Johnson said the school’s biggest weakness appears to be students’ ability to answer open response questions, but added that that’s a problem statewide. This year, he said, the school will strive for more consistency in how teachers approach open response questions with students.
Will the school reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014? “Oh, definitely. Before then,” Johnson said.
“I’m upset we aren’t there now,” he said, adding that he hoped the school would reach the 90s in 2008.
Scores have risen over the last two years, he said, due to the hard work of the teachers and students.
“I’ve got a very good staff. I’d be silly to think I’ve done anything to do it (myself),” he said. “Bottom line is the teachers are doing a great job.”
In the ten years since CATS was implemented, the school’s accountability index increased by almost 20 points, and the novice rate cut from 30 percent in 1999 to less than nine percent in 2008.
Particularly in the last two years, Campbellsburg has seen a marked jump over prior scores — the 2007 index of 82.9 represented a 7.5-point jump over 2006, and the 2007/2008 biennium score of 83.7 was 9.1 points above the 2005/2006 biennium. The novice rate between the two bienniums dropped by 10 points.
The school gained ground in most of the eight core content areas, with a minor drop in science scores, a decline in portfolio scores and a significant drop of almost 13 points in practical living/vocational studies. That drop, Johnson said, was a surprise.
The largest gaps for the school’s students come in scores for students approved for free/reduced lunch and those not approved for the program — considered a poverty indicator.
Between male and female students, the academic indices were close, with just a 2.8-point gap. Students on the free/reduced lunch program had an academic index 15.5 points below their counterparts.
Campbellsburg reading scores dropped slightly, 2.9 points, from 2007, to 89.8.
Johnson said that intervention programs are in place across all grade levels, not just third, even though fourth and fifth grades are not part of a grant for intervention.
“We didn’t want to leave off at third grade and be done with it,” he said.
But Johnson also said that reading comprehension has been slowed by focusing on other areas.
“I feel like fluency has been over emphasized,” he said. “We have kids trying to read too fast, and it’s hurting comprehension.”
Johnson said that last year, once students hit their reading level goal, the focus shifted to comprehension.
Johnson said the slight drop “concerns me, but yet it doesn’t,” as the scores remained relatively high.
Third grade students scored 96.9, fourth grade students scored 88.4, and fifth grade students scored 82.9.
A relatively poor performance on the open response portion of the reading test combined with a stronger performance on multiple choice questions indicate to John that “we really know the content, we’re just not able to write very well with it.”
Among the grade levels tested for reading, there is a gap between free/reduced students and their counterparts, and Johnson said that’s where intervention and the school’s extended school services teacher come into play.
But extended school services can only do so much for students, Johnson said, as the services are limited due to transportation costs.
“I think we would have big numbers ... if we had transportation,” he said, noting that he couldn’t blame the district, which supports the elementary schools with all day kindergarten and pre-school.
Math scores took their first foray into the 90s this year, after starting at a low of 55.6 in 1999. Johnson said several programs have been put into place to help with what district officials call numeracy, or math literacy.
Included among those are “What’s My Place, What’s My Value,” a program that helps students understand numbers and their place value, and “Shape Bait” which helps students see shapes in new ways.
“What’s My Place, What’s My Value,” utilizes a felt board and strips to help students understand that, for example, a seven in the tens place actually is 70. “They work it up with strips,” Johnson said.
With the shape program, students are encouraged to look beyond the obvious for shapes, as well as understanding what constitutes a square or rectangle.
“Once you can start grasping that, then you’re really going to do a good job with geometry,” Johnson.
It’s part of a more hands on approach, which Johnson acknowledged makes learning more fun for students. And that, he indicated, can help students retain what they learn — something Johnson said Campbellsburg students haven’t necessarily done well from year to year.
In an effort to find the best practices, Johnson said the teachers at Campbellsburg have observed other teachers, including math teachers at New Castle and La Grange elementary schools.
But again, he said, open response questions were a weakness. “We just are not doing a good job,” he said. “A lot of it is just being consistent, with everybody teaching open response the same way. There’s consistency and time saved too because you’re not teaching them how to do it your way.”
With a dip of just 0.25, science scores held steady for Campbellsburg at 87.7.
Johnson said that, again, more hands on approaches will be incorporated to help students.
“You don’t teach the scientific method by writing it down on a piece of paper,” he said, “you have to go through it. By learning how to do that, applying it to a project ... working it through that way, it’s much easier.”
Fourth grade teachers use science “centers” now to help students focus on weak areas.
Social Studies scores saw the biggest increase for the school — an 11.6-point leap up to 77.9.
Again, Johnson pointed to more hands on learning. One teacher in particular, he said, dresses in character. One day, for example, the teacher wore a suit of armor. Students in the class are encouraged to create raps, songs and poems to help learn their subject material.
And, perhaps most fun, the students had a sort of Civil War reenactment in which they hurled paper wads at each other.
“It’s so easy to fall back into the old stand and lecture about what’s going on,” Johnson said.
Portfolio scores dipped slightly, by just 2.1 points, while on demand writing increased 1.8 points. Johnson said of those students who had an apprentice score, most were “apprentice high.” The school also had just one distinguished portfolio and no novice portfolios.
Portfolio scores are expected to be a little higher as students work on them throughout the year, and pick their three favorite pieces. But on-demand writing can pose a larger challenge. Johnson, who teaches the subject, said one hour each week is set aside for on-demand instruction. Where portfolio writing focuses on a year long effort at writing and revision, on-demand writing presents students with just two questions, one of which they have one to two hours to answer.
Johnson said he loves teaching on-demand writing, and that it’s fun. In addition to preparing all of the on-demand materials, Johnson said he meets with each student. He started doing so, he said, when the school’s had just three apprentice scores in the subject. In 2008, one student earned a distinguished mark, while 24 earned proficient scores. Just one student had a novice score, The majority of the students scoring apprentice earned apprentice-high marks.
“It could just be very little things that push you from Apprentice high to Proficient,” Johnson said.
Arts and Humanities
Arts and humanities scores gained 2.5 points over 2007, in a subject that Johnson said was difficult to teach.
The school has just one teacher for the subject, though there were two traveling teachers. Arts and Humanities, Johnson said, can be taught across content areas, sometimes weaving reading, history and arts and humanities together when students are learning about different cultures.
Additionally, he said, the Blue Apple Players visit the school to teach students about theater, and the students also have a visitor that teaches them about dance.
The arts and humanities teacher also meets with teachers from each grade level to try and coordinate efforts. “Everyday, throughout the course of the week, she’s got to sit with each classroom teacher (and ask) ‘how can I emphasize what you’re doing?’” Johnson said.
Practical Living/Vocational Studies
Practical living/vocational studies scores dropped almost 13 points to 82.8 in a subject that Johnson indicated, presents a challenge to the school. He said the school shares a physical education teacher with the other elementary schools in the district, and students may get five days of physical education in a six-week span.
“There’s no way he can cover the content for everybody in this area,” Johnson said. “We have to make sure he collaborates with a fourth grade teacher.”
Other teachers, then, may wind up teaching students some physical education and health topics.
Students also must learn about careers, community helpers and more — something Johnson said may not be the most appropriate thing for a fourth grade student.
Closing the gaps between students with disabilities and those without, as well as students approved, and not approved, for free/reduced lunch may always pose a challenge.
Johnson said he agrees that all students should achieve the same, but acknowledged that an apprentice score for some students may be the best they can do.
“We had some kids that made apprentice on some testing that had some disabilities,” he said. “I was just as proud of them making apprentice.”
Collaborative teaching, he said, will help to narrow that gap.
Johnson said while open response poses a particular in school challenge, the biggest challenge for the school could be a cultural attitude.
“All of our kids think that they’re the smartest kids in the world, and think they’re going to be doctors and lawyers,” he said. “I hate for people to say ‘Oh, they’re just from Henry County.’”
Johnson said that students from Henry County are as capable as students from anywhere else. And because he’s from Henry County, Johnson said he expects more from his students. He knows, after all, they’re capable.
“I don’t know if it’s a cultural attitude in the county ... the kids say it, I’ve heard parents say it.”
E-mail us about this article at email@example.com.