Dec. 18, 2012
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Now that Ojai public school administrators have had time to analyze their students’ 2012 standardized testing results, they’re putting that data to work by implementing several programs to bring students’ test scores up to state and federally-mandated levels.
Tuesday, principals from Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks, Summit and San Antonio elementary schools presented their Single School Plans for Student Achievement, highlighting the areas they feel need the most work.
Across the Ojai Unified School District, one thing seemed universal: fifth-grade math scores dropped dramatically this year. While board members and staff agreed that drop was likely due to a variety of factors, Mira Monte principal Kathy White suggested that “fifth grade is one of the grade levels that introduces and requires mastery of more material than other grades.”
Other areas of concern included targeting English language learners (ELL) and helping bring up the scores of the District’s socio-economically disadvantaged students.
Mira Monte Elementary School
Because 41 percent of Mira Monte’s 400 students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, it qualifies as a Title 1 school. Although that signifies that more local families are struggling financially, it also means $38,000 in additional funding from the government — funds that principal Kathy White said are desperately needed. “The timing for qualifying was perfect. I can’t think of a time when we needed the money more.”
The money was used, in part, for after-school intervention programs, as well as to help reduce the number of combination classes, allowing teachers more time to focus on smaller groups.
Overall Mira Monte students are improving in English language arts, White said, but math remains an area of difficulty — especially fifth-grade math. At Tuesday’s school board meeting, White explained an interesting discrepancy: two years ago, the Mira Monte fourth-graders scored 49 percent proficient on their standardized tests. But last year, when that same group was in fifth grade, their test scores dropped 10 percentage points. While White and her team are still analyzing the problem, she said she remains hopeful that those students (now sixth-graders) will show a marked improvement in this school year’s tests.
“This year, our fifth-grade teachers will be focusing more on the key standards and less on getting through the entire curriculum,” White explained.
The school is also trying to help English language learners. Several teachers are receiving additional professional development training to better reach those students. In addition, students who need the most help are being pulled from their regular classrooms for special English language help. Kindergartners get 40 minutes a day before class; students in grade one through three get 45 minutes three times a week; fourth- and fifth-graders get 45 minutes with the Rosetta Stone® program every day; and sixth-graders get 45 minutes with Rosetta Stone® four days a week.
The school also offers free English classes, through Rosetta Stone®, to adults in the evenings. “Many of the parents attending our evening English classes are bringing their students along with them,” White said. “This means that these students are being exposed to more English than they would have otherwise.”
White said the school is thinking outside the box to help students as well, offering students the opportunity to earn “Happy Feet” trinkets by coming to school early to run laps. Board members applauded the popular program, pointing to several studies showing that physical exercise can help improve focus and learning skills. “Plus,” White said, “it’s great for kids who don’t necessarily shine elsewhere in other (academic) areas” to feel a sense of accomplishment at school.
Meiners Oaks Elementary School
Like Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks also has large English-learning and socio-economically disadvantaged subgroups. Sixty percent of the school population now qualifies for the free and reduced-price lunch program.
But despite that, principal Dawn Damianos had several bright spots to share with board members Tuesday. She applauded her students’ English Language Arts scores — especially the fourth- and fifth-graders, who improved 14 and 12 percent respectively — as well as the math scores of her second-graders who registered a 14 percent increase.
But Damianos worries about her fifth-graders, who dropped 11 percent this year compared to last year. To address the math issue, Damianos and her team are “tweaking” their after-school Homework Club. She said the optional, three-days-per-week club is seeing about 25 students, and offers math and English help from retired teachers. Students get a snack, individualized help and an opportunity to do additional worksheets to further their comprehension of vital math and literacy skills.
“We’re developing opportunities for students to work in smaller groups, which gives us more opportunities for intervention,” Damianos said.
But, she pointed out, “what these kids really need is more time.” That’s a challenge without summer school and with limited after-school interventions and fewer staff members. Still, they’re coming up with new ideas and getting creative with funding. Sixth-graders have reading buddies in the lower grades, improving comprehension and social skills on both ends. There are also new art programs, garden projects and a free book program. Sixth-graders are also participating in violin classes each year, and the entire school participates in programs like bicycle safety and the Ojai Music Festival’s BRAVO! music program.
“I’m feeling so many highs and lows listening to you,” board member Kathi Smith told Damianos after her presentation.
San Antonio and Summit elementary schools
Due to its small size, San Antonio, along with Summit, do not have large enough numbers in any subgroup — except caucasian students — to be federally tracked. But that doesn’t mean administrators and teachers aren’t looking for ways to improve.
One of the big challenges at both Summit and San Antonio are the number of combination classes; Summit has all combination classes, and, with the exception of one class, so does San Antonio. Principal of both schools, Teresa Dutter, said one of the schools’ solutions is to bring in a part-time teacher to break classes into smaller groups, calling it a “critical component.”
San Antonio is attempting to create events and programs that address multiple subjects. One such event was a sixth-grade “Cave Man Day,” organized by teacher Icy Colborn, in which students learned about ancient civilizations by dressing up, playing games and eating a meal “cave-man style” without napkins or silverware.
The San Antonio Parent-Teacher Organization is also attempting to appeal to students in new ways. They’ve raised funds to create an after-school program which offers enrichment classes as well as other classes not normally taught during class time — such as marine biology, Spanish and Latin.
At Summit, the District’s smallest school with 71 children, the three teachers are able to get even more creative to address students’ needs. Each morning, students get instruction in math and English language arts without interruption, Dutter said, and teachers utilize the older students in their combination classes to create peer tutoring groups. The strong PTO, Dutter added, brings in parents to help with “basic science, engineering, art, music and physical exercise.” They’ve also got a Friday cooking class, she said, which incorporates math lessons and nutrition education.
Single School Plans for Student Achievement for Topa Topa Elementary, Matilija Junior High and Nordhoff High School will be presented at the next OUSD board meeting, set for Jan. 22.
Visit www.ojai.k12.ca.us for more information.