Closing the achievement gap, one sticky note at a time

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Anderson County schools buckle down to break Top 10 of high-performing districts

By Meaghan Downs

By Meaghan Downs
News staff
Waking up at 5:45 a.m. one morning last week, Instructional Supervisor Sharon Jackman wanted to check one thing on her phone.
Anderson County test scores.
Students just finished being tested using the Measures of Academic Progress exam or MAP, Jackman said, a test given three times a year that allows staff to track academic growth and predict performance, as best they can, on how students K-8 will score on state assessments like the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) in the spring.
“It seems reasonable that if they make growth there [on the MAP], we’re hoping that they will make growth on K-PREP,” Jackman said.
It may be February, but that doesn’t mean spring state assessments aren’t on the minds of Anderson County staff like Jackman.   
Kentucky’s new school accountability model, Unbridled Learning, will be in its second year, and unlike last year’s trial run, scores be officially counted for districts this year.
 “I believe if every one of our schools works hard to reach our yearly goals, we’ll be well on our way to meeting that Top 10 percent goal we’ve set,” Jackman said.
Goals for Anderson County include improving students’ college and career-readiness, plus the district’s graduation rate; improving achievement proficiency for math and reading across the district; and closing the achievement gap for low-achieving students by May 2013.
Last fall the Anderson County school district was ranked as “needs improvement” according to the new testing model, falling just below the top 30 percent of districts in the state.  
Gap scores for minority, special education and free and reduced lunch students — especially in math, reading, language mechanics and social studies at the high school — were low.
Anderson County High School, the only school classified as a “focus school,” placed in the bottom 10 percent for its inability to close the achievement gap for low-performing students.
The ultimate goal?
Breaking into the top 10 percent of all Kentucky public school districts for the 2012-2013 school year.
To do so, Jackman said, teachers in the district try to answer three questions through learning targets: “What do we want students to know? How will we know they met that objective? And what am I going to do if students didn’t learn it?”
“It’s vital, it’s absolutely vital,” Jackman said of the learning targets. “If we’re using those strategies, if we’re intentional in our curriculum, if we’re intentional in our assessments and if we’re intentional in answering when they didn’t learn it, we’re not only improving our proficiency score, but we’ve also closed the gap.”
This week in Pre-Algebra, math teacher Alex Hunter said, the students will be learning the learning target “I can construct a table given a function.”
Hunter now writes “I can” learning target statements on the whiteboard and on unit tests; they’ve been doing so in the math curriculum for the past two years, Hunter said.
And Hunter’s eighth graders no longer receive letter grades. They get learning target scores.
Math tests are scored based on how many questions within a certain learning target students got right. So instead of looking for a percent, students look for how many “3s” they received on a subgroup of three questions, Hunter said.
 If they missed any math problems, eighth graders have the opportunity to submit a “testing analysis” for credit, reworking the problem and explaining why they believe they got it wrong in the first place.
Hunter and fellow math instructor Tom Cannon don’t feel as though including learning targets are forcing them to “teach to the test.”
Grading based on learning targets gives the tests more meaning than a percent average, Cannon said.
Hunter agreed, saying the tests give more direct feedback on individual topics.
“If we teach what we’re supposed to, then the test should take care of itself,” Hunter said.
In Shannon Wells’ classroom at Robert B. Turner Elementary, students scribbled on sticky notes with their answers on the differences between a rhombus and a square, a learning target for that day’s lesson on explaining the difference between quadrilaterals.
The sticky notes serve as “exit slips” that students hand to Wells so she can see which fifth graders understood a concept, and who did not.
“It’s like a little check up, ‘Did you get what I was teaching?’” she said.
Wells said she’s more confident this year on how her students will perform on the upcoming state tests.
After all, her fifth grade homeroom did get a “super average” on the mid-year MAP exam.
“If anything, it’s helped me more,” Wells, a fifth grade math instructor, said of the learning targets. “It keeps me focused, it keeps them focused.”


District goals to reach by May 2013

The Anderson County school district has set goals — recently added to its Comprehensive District Improvement Plan — to increase students’ scores and rates in the following categories by May 2013:

College and Career-Readiness Rate

• 56.7 to 57.3 percent

Graduation Rate

• 84.7 to 85.9 percent

Students scoring proficient/distinguished for Achievement in math/reading

• Elementary: 50.1 to 55.1 percent

• Middle: 46.8 to 52.1 percent

• High: 43.4 to 49.1 percent

Closing reading/math gap scores for low-achieving students (minority, special-education, free and reduced lunch, students with disabilities)

• Elementary: 36.9 to 43.2 percent

• Middle: 32.1 to 38.9 percent

• High: 26.5 to 33.9 percent

For more information on the district’s Comprehensive District Improvement Plan, visit its website at www.anderson.k12.ky.us.