With just over 7,000 students, officials at the Saugus Union School District are still crunching the recently released results of the Standardized Testing And Reporting Program (STAR), but early indications are promising – especially for traditionally underperforming schools.
“We’re showing a few percentage points growth at every grade level currently. Sixth grade went down one percentage point in their reading. But every other grade level is up anywhere from two to six points and in math anywhere from one to eleven points,” said Chris Hamlin, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum.
Two schools in particular were singled out for their achievement.
“It looks like this year Cedarcreek showed our greatest growth and Rio Vista showed our second greatest growth, but again we don’t have confirmation of that until the end of August,” Hamlin said.
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The end of August is when the Academic Performance Index (API) scores come out. State Education officials say that while the STAR program tests proficiency the API measures improvement. Scores on the STAR test are used to factor improvement on a scale of 200-1000.
In addition to state measurements, schools are required to meet federal standards measured as the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools who don’t meet AYP are entered into Program Improvement (PI).
Following their consistent rise in test scores, Cedarcreek Elementary will be exiting Program Improvement this year.
Hamlin points to a number of initiatives that have contributed to the success at Cedarcreek. This includes hiring consultants from RISE-TESS to work with teachers, employing the AIM (Assess. Intervene. Monitor) program, and careful attention to students whose first language is not English.
“There’s a greater burden for teaching academic language and I know that the teachers at Cedarcreek have been very pinpointing in their use of structured ELD (English Language Development) so that students can learn the language and learn it in an academic way so they can access the core curriculum,” Hamlin said.
RISE-TESS consultants have helped teachers deconstruct the state standards into greater detail and teach the specific skills each child needs to master at that grade level.
“Most of the standards have three or four concepts in each standard so part of the responsibility of the teacher is to break it down and say ‘Have I covered every one those aspects of the standards?’,” said Hamlin.
Hamlin says the teachers at Cedarcreek have worked extremely hard as a team to be collaborative in how they examine student work. She says the common assessments they put together have helped them target those students who need additional assistance during the school year, rather than waiting for a once a year STAR score.
AIM enables teachers to address those student’s needs by separating them into targeted groups.
“That’s part of the intervention program where they look at ‘Okay we’ve taught the lesson very clearly, we’ve given them academic language support, the children who still need extra, what is it specifically they need and let’s target that,” said Hamlin.
Still, despite the improvement is scores throughout the district, meeting the 100% proficiency requirement by 2014 as directed by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 might seem unrealistic.
“I think educators differ on how realistic it is, but all of us agree that focusing on which children are proficient or not has brought about growth for all of our students,” Hamlin said.
Full disclosure, the reporter’s wife is a Kindgarten teacher at Cedarcreek Elementary.