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'Perseverance' pays off: IL students make gains in NECAP scores

February 24, 2010
MEREDITH — Instructional improvements, test-taking strategies, and themes of perseverance are being credited for the high growth in NECAP scores at Inter-Lakes Elementary and Middle Tier.

Elementary School Principal Steve Kelley and Middle Tier Principal Everett Bennett presented the overall results of this 2009's NECAP test.

Bennett said students in grades three through five collectively scored 539 points higher than last year, and students in grades seven through eight collectively scored 885 points higher than in 2008.

The 2009 NECAP scores show significant improvements in several areas.

According to the results, 78 percent of students in grades three through five were at Proficient or above, a six-point increase from 2008. Partially Proficient levels stayed at 15 percent, though the number of students Substantially Below Proficient dropped from 13 percent in 2008 to seven percent in 2009.

At the Middle Tier level, 24 percent of students were Proficient with Distinction, seven points over last year's 17 percent. Students at Proficient level slightly increased at 60 percent compared to last year's 58 percent. The number of Partially Proficient students dropped from 18 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2004. The number of students Substantially Below Proficient was 4 percent in 2009 while it was 7 percent in 2008.

In 2009, district officials expressed concern with the low NECAP scores. This lead to a series of strategies put in place to improve instruction and motivate students to do better on the test. Inter-Lakes Elementary did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in math for special education students and the Middle Tier was listed as a School in Need of Improvement.

Bennett and Kelley said a plan started over the summer to address ways to improve scores and have students be proficient.

"Teachers and administrators said 'Let's take a look at what we're doing,'" Bennett said

Plans were put in place focusing on students who were not proficient, on the line of proficiency, or who had point swings.

Over the summer teachers and administrators met in four committees to discuss ways to motivate students and get them ready for the test on both an academic level and as a personal goal. Presentations on strategies were made on the first day of school.

Instructional improvements were made, including reading strategies, vocabulary building, use of Wilson Reading, a math audit, and others. Interventions were also held for students with learning needs and learning strategies were utilized such as multi-stepped math problems and writing quality open-response items.

Kelley said accommodations were examined for students to make them more comfortable with the test.

"We had some of our most skilled teachers working with kids who have the greatest needs," Bennett said.

Tests were given in smaller groups with a proctor the students were more familiar with. Some accommodations included having a grade's previous year's teacher help give the test as the students were more familiar with that teacher. Kelley said students seemed to greatly appreciate that familiarity.

"Every student would be in a situation where the test was being proctored by someone they knew," Kelley said of one of the goals.

Days and times for the best testing were also part of the strategy.

Along with the academic component, more personal motivation was added to the program, as the theme for the year was "Perseverance." Quotes on perseverance were read over the intercom and posted on the walls of the school.

Both principals said Perseverance caught on rapidly.

"It was contagious," Kelley said. "I had parents telling me kids were using the word 'perserverance' at home."

Bennett said he heard about soccer players telling their teammates to persevere before games.

Early in the school year, Bennett and Kelley gave their students a challenge to score 300 more points collectively at the Elementary School and 200 more points collectively at the Middle Tier. The reward for students in third through sixth grade would be no homework or home learning for a week. Seventh through eighth graders would also have no home programs and would get to wear hats for a week, rewards that will now be given after the announcement of the scores.

"We wanted them to show what they were capable of," Bennett said.

Teachers also showed students their previous scores to help them set a goal for doing better.

The morning before each test, students did exercises outside before coming in to relax and have a snack while Mozart played in the background. The PTO set up the snack program that Kelley said provided around 300 snack packets to the Elementary School building and 350 to the High School.

"I don't think I've seen teachers work harder," Kelley said. "I've never seen people pull together so hard to set up a good environment for learning."

Overall, Bennett and Kelley said special education students showed growth across the grade levels.

"We have great kids and we have great teachers and they certainly have stepped it up," Bennett said.

AYP results will be calculated later in the year. Kelley said the proficiency levels for schools under No Child Left Behind will increase yearly and students must be at 100 percent proficiency by 2013.

In the meantime, both principals said they are happy with the results.

"I couldn't be any more pleased with the results and the effort that has been put in," Bennett said.

"I'm pleased with what I've seen. It's positive growth in the right direction, and that's what this is about," Kelley said.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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