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When you consider that every child learns differently and they don’t all learn at the same pace, it can be a challenge when the goal is to make sure they can all read proficiently by the end of third grade. But it’s a challenge administrators, principals, and teachers have accepted and risen to with impressive results.
Natrona County School District’s Spring ’12 NWEA reading scores show that 81% of the district’s third-graders are reading at or above grade level. Just five years ago, that number sat at 65%.
Administrators and principals say success on Goal 1 comes down to the quality of the teacher and embracing continuous improvement.
“All of our teachers, tutors, and administrators are very dedicated to bringing our students to the very highest academic level possible on the district and state standards,” said Mari Stoll, principal at Cottonwood Elementary.
Cottonwood has shown steady growth on third grade reading scores. In 2010, 59% of their third graders were considered proficient. The most recent scores show them at 83%. Other schools have seen similar gains. Bar Nunn lingered in the 60th percentile for three years and this spring their numbers have jumped to 91% of their third graders at the benchmark.
Mike Bond, executive director of systemic continuous improvement and team leader for Goal 1, says this speaks to the caliber of our teachers and the dedication they have to their classrooms.
“We have very skilled teachers,” he said, “Now we have to provide them with the systemic support and resources to continue this upward trend.”
Mr. Bond has been with the school district for more than two decades. He says although teaching has never been an easy job, with the pressure to meet and exceed standards, today’s educators have an especially daunting challenge. As a leader in the district, Bond says the district’s five goals, as outlined by Dr. Dvorak’s strategic plan, give teachers a clear focus.
“The district’s goal provide clarity and clear expectations for teachers and principals. This is the first time I can recall that we’ve had a strategic plan that is this specific and focused.”
For students at Cottonwood, Ms. Stoll also points to clear goals as a reason for their success.
“Our students are very aware of their end of the year goals beginning in kindergarten,” explains Ms. Stoll. “Cottonwood teachers introduce their students to the learning requirements at their grade level and collaborate with students to set weekly goals to help them reach their end of year targets.”
Ms. Stoll emphasizes the importance of collaboration among the educators at Cottonwood. Like other schools, Cottonwood utilizes the resources provided by a reading facilitator who helps with professional development, modeling in the classroom, team teaching, and collaboration around student reading assessment data. All of Cottonwood teachers and tutors participate in weekly Professional Learning Communities to review student assessment data and make decisions about student placement into differentiated, flexible reading groupings and to plan for instruction.
Teachers don’t have to wait until test scores come back to find out how well their students are doing or to keep an eye on their progress. By using Literacy First assessments, teachers are able to assess students and access predictive data to help them meet each student’s needs. Literacy First assessments give teachers a good idea of progress along the way.
Bond says “if they are meeting targets throughout the year, they can be confident students will do well on the NWEA assessment.”
Literacy First assessments are just one set of tools the district has provided to help support the “ground troops” in meeting reading goals. Another way Central Office is stepping in is through the yearly District Data Review. Data is reviewed by a professional judgment panel for each school. Schools are given one of three classifications based on these results: Excelling, Unclassified, Focus. When a school is struggling with performance, the district responds with increased support and tools like tutors and professional development.
“We need to have good systems on all levels of the organization to create high performing classrooms and excelling schools,” emphasizes Bond. “Our priority is to insure that all systems support the Student Learning System at the classroom level.”