How can we do a better job of growing our students from year to year as a school?

Every year as a school we take a look at the data from TNReady as well as STAR Math and Reading to help us set goals that as a school we feel are important. One area we have worked on for many years is our subgroups which are labeled as Students With Disabilities (SWD), Economically Disadvantaged (ED), BHN (Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans), and English Learners (EL). We have worked hard as a faculty to make sure that we are providing the right instruction to meet the exact needs of these students. I am happy to report that in all of those subgroups achievement has increased. This past year our BHN group increased achievement by 4.4% in ELA as well as our SWD increased by 1% in ELA. Our English Learners increased achievement by 11.2% in both ELA and Math. The only area that we saw a dip was in Math with our BHN group. We have put a lot of time and effort in working with our subgroups and we were given Reward School status in 2017 and 2018 for being in the top 5% for performance (academic achievement).

There is another area that as a school we are graded on and that area is called Value-Added or Student Growth. Tennessee uses a value-added model that is designed to follow the progress of individual students over time and estimate whether these students made the average amount of progress observed in the state in the current year for TNReady and the Grade 2 Assessment. TNReady is designed to discriminate proficiency from non-proficiency, as well as designed to have sufficient stretch to measure student performance at a wide range of achievement levels and to measure the growth of both high and low achieving students.

We have for many years shown high growth for most of our students, but this past year we struggled to show growth with our highest achieving students. Our last TCAP test was in 2015 and we did well in all areas except some of our subgroups were not achieving at the level they needed to be at so we put our time and effort into finding ways to do a better job for all of our students.

We offered PD to teachers to help them learn new strategies to use in the classroom, we read books such as Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie, The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease as well as books on grading and homework. We discussed better strategies we could use with our children and got rid of teaching techniques/strategies that had a low effect size in the classroom. We also decided to start helping our children learn to set goals for themselves and to watch their progress and celebrate.

We reflected, examining our own mindset as we read Carol Dweck's Book called Mindset as well as Mindsets for Parents by Mary Cay Riucci. Both of these books helped us determine if we had a fixed mindset that was keeping our kids from succeeding. We made school a place where kids learned to persevere and to understand that failure is a part of learning and it is okay to fail if we pick ourselves back up and keep trying. 

The 2016 test was the first testing year for TNReady and it was a complete disaster! BSE was not able to take the test as were many schools in the state so we did not receive any data for that year. The 2017 TNReady test went better, but there were still issues around the state. The results for this test showed that we were having trouble moving our highest students in growth overall as a school. We still received all 5's and Reward School status for performance, but if you start breaking the data down we were seeing a trend in growth meaning we were not doing as well as we had in the past.

The 2018 TNReady test did go well and I feel that the results that we received from this test were valid. The state is putting out a 2018 report card that is pretty easy to read on the state website. This report card gives each school a number from 0 to 4 with 4 being the highest in four areas; Achievement, Growth, Chronic Absenteeism and English Learners. This year we received a 3.7 for Achievement, 2.0 for Growth, 4.0 for Chronic Absenteeism, and a 4.0 for English Learners. So you can see that our area to work on as a school is growth. You can access all this information at https://reportcard.tnk12.gov.

So we come back to the big question which is, "Why are we struggling with growing our high achieving kids"?

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The TNReady test is requiring our students to apply their learning more than any test we have taken in the past. No longer can our students just know a little information or use their memorization skills. They need to know how to apply a skill to a problem and work it out which may require many steps.

2. The students are expected to be able to write and to write well. They are being asked to look back into the text they are reading to find evidence and site it in their writing. Writing is in every subject including math. They are explaining more than ever how they got an answer and not just coloring in a circle.

3. We have gone through several standards revisions within the state of Tennessee. With each revision, teachers have had to redo the curriculum they teach so that the skills or objectives they are teaching match the standards from the state for their grade level. This takes time and skill to make sure that we are teaching at the level of the standard and with every change or revision many times we have to start over again.

4. When you have very high achieving students you have to move them past the knowledge of the grade they are currently in. Many of these students can do most of the work that is grade level so as a school we have to provide them much higher level work to do but at the same time, we can only hold them accountable (grades) for the grade level they are in. This means that these students have to want to go higher and learn more than what their peers around them are being held accountable for. They have to have a growth mindset and a teacher that has the ability to help them strive for the next level.

5. The questions on the TNReady test require students to analyze the question and determine exactly what it is asking. Some of our brightest students process the question so quickly that they don't take the time to attend to the specifics of each question. This is a test-taking strategy that requires precision in order to determine the best answer for the question.

So, what are we doing as a school?

First of all, we have to acknowledge that we are not growing all our students. That is a heavy burden for our teachers and administrators! That means that some of our students who were in our classrooms did not advance to the next level but stayed stagnant. They probably made straight A's on all the curriculum and mastered the skills for their grade level, but when they took the test and it had those questions on it that show if they can take their knowledge to the next level they were not able to do so. Were they given opportunities that would help them go to the next level? Did they want to stretch themselves outside their comfort zone and apply the skills they are learning at a higher level? Did the teacher have the training needed and the understanding of the curriculum to go to the next level with these students?

We have identified several ways to help our school be more successful in growing our students. The first is that we must use our intervention time wisely and make sure to target our highest learners not just gifted but all high achieving students during this time. Secondly, as a school we need to make sure that we are not just teaching to the "middle" but that we are also teaching to the highest level in the classroom. We must also prepare our students for the types of questions they will be asked on the test and give them opportunities to practice answering these type of questions. One way we practice is by administering the CASE21 assessment which mirrors TNReady. Our teachers analyze the results of these assessments to differentiate and grow our students. Lastly, everyone needs to look at the data and really understand what it means and how to use that data to better impact the learning in each classroom.

Our teachers may need more professional development in using data, training in intervention techniques, or be given better ideas for reaching their high-level learners and/or they may need more time with the curriculum to make sure that their planning of lessons matches the needs of the students.

We are working on all the areas discussed above and know that it will make a difference in testing this year, but if we are being truthful it may take more time for our hard work to show we are making a difference!

What can parents do? Parents need to recognize the hard work their child is putting in at school as well as support the teacher that is working with their child. Talking to your child and discussing things they are learning and reading is the first step. Taking an interest in what they are doing and finding other avenues to expand their knowledge helps the child know that what they are doing is important. There will be times when they may be given something to work on at school that might cause them to struggle, but the struggle will lead to growth so encourage the struggle and seek out ways to broaden their knowledge. Last but not least is reading! Yes, the more a child reads about the world and enlarges their vocabulary and their understanding of the world around them, the smarter they become. When they have opportunities to put themselves in another person's shoes and see the world from another viewpoint, that is where ultimate growth comes from. When we enlarge our child's world from the small one that we live in we can change the path of all children whether they are high achieving learners or not.

We want to wish all of our families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Please take the time to enjoy the winter break with family and we will see everyone back at school on January 7, 2019!

Cindy Tesreau, Deanna Jones and Miranda Manley