Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TOP STORY >> Key areas in district in need of improving

Leader senior staff writer

Nobody likes to hear this, but most students in most grades in most schools in the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District don’t perform to grade-level in reading, writing and arithmetic. Nor in science for that matter.

Officials of the new district knew what they were getting into, and it will be a long haul to correct this problem. But as school board president Daniel Gray said, “That’s why we wanted our own school district.”

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Owoh said, “Comparative scores are based on students we inherited from PCSSD.”

“It’s definitely an arduous task for all of us,” Owoh said. He called the initial numbers this year in some areas “fruitful and optimistic.”

“We’ve seen growth compared to last spring, and we’ve collected foundational knowledge about where to go instructionally,” he said.

He said the first priority is to strengthen English language arts K-12. “Data will show we’re not performing well on math because of the literature component on the math,” he said. “In part, that’s what some used to call word problems. ‘If a train traveling 60 miles an hour left a station at...’”

“Improved reading, writing and comprehension will definitely address the deficits and make sure to improve skills to be successful at the next grade level and after high school,” Owoh said.

“We’ve hired reading specialists in all the elementary schools and providing ongoing training. Where judged helpful, the district has purchased programs such as Journeys. We never had it before, and it gives teachers and administrators a framework to guide instruction,” he said.

“They will know exactly what grade level students are performing on, with the ability to monitor individual progress,” Owoh added.

The STAR Math Assessment given at the beginning of October showed about 40 percent for first grade and the lowest was about 14 percent in eighth grade.

Less than half of math students in high school were performing at grade level.

About 75 percent of elementary and middle schools students tested below grade level in literacy. Only a quarter of high schools students tested proficient in literacy.

There will be interventions to address literacy and math. “If it’s not effective, we’ll do something else,” Owoh said.

The district will also use AR Kids Read, Owoh said.

“We want them reading in school and after school,” he said. The district wants to get grants and send books home with kids.

“I think we will see some improvement this year. We saw growth this year with interim assessment,” he said.

All six elementary schools, the middle school and the high school all are accredited.

Total enrollment is at 3,883.

All elementary schools need improvement. Murrell Taylor “needs improvement/met first year.” Jacksonville Middle School and High School are categorized as “need improvement/priority.”

The 2016-17 school year includes the Arkansas Leadership Academy for all principals. Schools will have a student voice initiative, professional development for assistant principals, AR Kids Read, partnerships with colleges, summer learning opportunities and district support of Jacksonville Middle School.


Ongoing professional development for district employees on Plan 2000 includes monitoring of student achievement, discipline and staffing; monthly meetings with Joshua Intervenors/monitors and PCSSD administration.

District-wide progress monitoring is being used for math and literacy, with reports from assessments to include grade equivalence, instructional level and percentile rank.

Last April, 42.4 percent of Jacksonville Middle School sixth graders were proficient in math, but that percentage fell to 25 percent when retested in October.

In seventh grade, math proficiency improved from 19.4 percent to 26 percent from late last year to October. In eighth grade, the percentage proficient in math more than doubled from 13 percent to 29 percent.

The percentage of sixth graders proficient in English, however, fell from 60.9 percent last April to 42 percent this October; from 67.3 last year to 44 percent this year in seventh grade and from 50.7 percent last April to 32 percent in October.

Growth in reading is more hopeful, Owoh said. While only 28.5 percent of the sixth graders last year were reading at grade level, 46 percent were this year. Results were similar for seventh and eighth graders, improving from 20.5 percent to 42 percent for seventh grade and 25.9 percent to 42 percent in eighth grade.

Science testing, while still with the majority of students testing below grade level, showed an encouraging uptick, sixth grade improved from 25.9 to 42 percent; seventh grade, 18.3-45 percent and eighth grade, 17.7—41 percent proficient.

Remediation classes are helping those who weren’t proficient, Owoh said. Science remediation takes place during the enrichment period.

Enrichment opportunities include an orchestra class and a chess club.

At Bayou Meto, which now has students who were either at Bayou Meto or Warren Dupree last year, third- and fourth-grade students were close to proficiency or proficient in reading, English, math, writing and science.

The exception was Warren Dupree third graders, who were in need of support in reading and science, and fourth graders who were in need of support in science.

At Arnold Drive, the overall school letter grade was “C” and the school status was “needs improvement.”

Arnold Drive students surpassed the state English language arts average in three of six subgroups. Overall, 49 percent scored at “achieving” level, higher than the state average of 47.86.

In math, they surpassed the state average in six out of six subgroups by 10 percentage points or more.

Overall, 58.49 percent scored at achieving levels, about 15 percent higher than the state average.

Pinewood received a failing grade for the 2015-16 school year and is classified as a “needs-improvement school.” Approximately 70 percent of the students are one grade level or more behind in one or both core subjects.

Among the goals are to provide intensive interventions for those two or more years behind and to develop a culture of learning and innovation, Owoh said.

“As a team, we believe that strong character and self-regulation are strong components to the learning process. Positive behavior intervention strategies are utilized building wide,” he said.

To help address Pinewood’s deficiencies in literacy, teachers are getting training in guided reading, word study, Journeys and comprehensive literacy. The school is implementing a new reading series, and students are learning to compose essays digitally and with pencil and paper.

The school is using AR Kids Read mentors, incorporating technology and giving students choices in what they read.

To address math deficiencies, the district is hiring a highly qualified paraprofessional to assist with math interventions and also incorporating S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering and math) into the media program.

Three-quarters of Tolleson Elementary School students qualify for free and reduced lunches, which is a good indicator that a lot of the students will need extra help academically.

In literacy, between 47 percent and 82 percent of students in the various grades read below grade level, except in the multi-age third- and fourth-grade classroom, where 100 percent of the students were below proficiency, and first grade, where the students didn’t meet standards to take that version of the test.

In math testing, between 40 and 49 percent were below proficient except fifth grade, where 78 percent were below grade level and the multi-age class where 100 percent are below.

At Murrell Taylor Elementary, 27.27 percent of the students were proficient in English language arts, about 20 percent less than the state average.

In math, 41.83 percent were proficient, close to the state average.

At the start of the year, only about 3 percent of the students in third through fifth grades exceeded state proficiency in reading and an average of another 7 percent were ready. An average of about 70 percent needed support.

One area to improve scores was strengthening school instructional program, small group instruction every day and phonics/foundational skills and guided reading study with specialists.

The school will analyze data and monitor progress monthly.

Overall, 56 percent of students at Warren Dupree Elementary are proficient in English; 31 percent in math; 18 percent in science; 15 percent in reading and 10 percent in writing.

In third-grade English, about 35 percent of students were proficient; fourth grade about 42 percent and fifth grade, 41 percent.

In reading, the proficiency in third grade, 37 percent; fourth grade, 48 percent, and fifth grade, 40 percent.

In science, third, fourth and fifth grades are all about 30 percent.

Math proficiency was third grade, 29 percent; fourth grade, 22 percent, and fifth grade, 24 percent.

Among the programs and initiatives to help are school-wide reading interventions an enrichment; Arkansas Reads and Creation of a S.T.E.A.M. lab to provide opportunities to enrich the K-5 science curriculum.