A systematic approach to improving student achievement at low performing schools

Evans, Richard William, Jr.
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University of Delaware
In an age of high stakes testing and No Child Left Behind, schools cannot allow students to be unsuccessful academically. Students must learn to read and understand complex content at a rapid pace. These are big demands for all students, but particularly for English Language Learners (Edmunds, Reutebuch, Vaughn, & Wexler 2009). In the spring of 2013 the results of the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System showed that more than 25% of our students in grades 3, 4, and 5 were not proficient on the reading portion of the state test. Furthermore, results between ELL and non-ELL students show sizable achievement gaps. In addition, there is also a sizable achievement gap between Special Education and Regular Education students at every grade level. These large achievement gaps support the need for changes so we can break the cycle of poor performance. I believe we have become accustomed to the achievement gap and need to do more to reduce it. In my first year as principal at North Georgetown, I did not make instructional changes. I needed time to evaluate our data and conditions in the school and to identify our strengths and needs. Change is difficult, so making the right changes is important. Ultimately, I believe that if we make gains with these two subgroups (ELL/ELL monitors and Special Education) we will be one of the higher performing schools in the State of Delaware. To achieve this, we need specific improvement goals. Our first goal is to raise the student achievement in reading and math for our ELL students. The second goal is to raise the student achievement in reading and math for our Special Education students. If this group's performance does not improve, this could prevent our school from reaching Adequate Yearly Progress. Lastly we need to maintain or improve achievement of all other students in our school. We want to decrease the achievement gaps between these two low performing groups, but this cannot come at the expense of our higher performing students. The ability of our students to be able to read proficiently will be paramount to their success after they leave North Georgetown Elementary School. At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year I introduced a 3-Year Plan for School Improvement. The plan consisted of improvement strategies in four areas. Improving the teaching of our staff members; improving the culture of our students; improving the amount of time students spend engaged in instruction; and improving our parent's ability to help their children be successful. Strategies were implemented with some progress evident, but at the same time after only one year it is premature to look for results in rising scores on our state test. As we move forward with our school improvement goals and strategies I feel confident that some were successful, but recognize that others were not and need to be adjusted moving forward. Lastly, I feel that there are strategies that need more time in implementation in order to make a decision one way or another.