Eighth-grade math students at Glacier Middle School in Buckley rocked this spring’s state End of Course test in algebra – each of the 103 students who took the test scored at standard or above.
District Curriculum and Assessment Director Mike Jacobsen beams when he points it out on his multi-colored test score chart.
The first year GMS offered algebra to 110 students, in 2011, the score was 88.5 percent.
Former Glacier Middle School teacher Teri Fleming said math has been an area of focus for the past five years at White River where the administration provides regular professional days for math teachers to work on aligning curriculum to standards, plan engaging units and create common assessments.
“More than that though, I care about the learning of each of my students and they knew that although my expectations were high I expected more of myself to make lessons engaging and real to them,” Fleming said. “They also knew that I would support their learning however I needed to with extra time and work to expose them to the material that would make them successful, not just in algebra but moving forward.”
Fleming said she set up support systems for students that worked around their sports schedules and their home lives so they could get extra help.
“Basically being there for them and getting them to believe in themselves,” she said.
“More kids are learning more because of the dedicated White River staff like Teri Fleming,” White River Superintendent Janel Keating said. “The new textbook adoptions and intentional training enhance the work our teachers are doing daily in the classroom with our kids. I’m proud of their efforts.
“I often ask the principals this question, is this good enough for your own child? My child is one of the students in the 103 out of 103 that passed the Algebra EOC,” Keating said. “There no longer is a secret of what we need to do. The concepts and practices that were in place instructionally in Teri Fleming’s classroom work with kids.”
At each grade level, at every school, White River students are posting similar levels of success on the state’s High School Proficiency Exam and Measurement of Student Progress. That’s a far cry from when state assessments began.
“It’s a change in the curriculum and a change in the belief system,” said Jacobsen, who presented the information at the White River School Board’s September regular meeting.
Mired in “we-can’t-accomplish-that” attitudes with excuses a mile long just a few years ago, district leaders and teachers decided enough was enough and started digging in with programs like Professional Learning Communities to help teachers and Response to Intervention for students.
“Now they don’t think that way,” Jacobsen said of the school district population. “We have data
that says we can make a difference. ‘Yes we can!’ It’s sort of a relevant phrase these days.”
Math teacher Fleming said the success stories keep multiplying.
“Some of the best ones are from my students that skipped from regular seventh-grade math to algebra – basically missing eighth-grade pre-algebra,” she said. “With their extra efforts at lunch time, after school and before school they found great success not only in class but also on the End of Course exam.”
One particular nervous student voiced her concerns and anxiety at the beginning of the year.
“It was great for me to touch base with her and actually use that anxiety to bolster her confidence and allow her to see that she could be strong in algebra, problem solving and reasoning,” Fleming said. “She passed both the state eighth-grade math test and the EOC with flying colors.
“I had a student that transferred in midyear and had many gaps in his algebra content to that point,” she continued. “He asked fantastic questions, worked in small groups and individually with me to catch and surpassed his expectations by passing both tests.”
“Our growth has been amazing,” Jacobsen said.
In 1997, the first year for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, district math scores for fourth grade were 15.9 percent. This spring that number was 74.
That same year, 52 percent of students were at standard; today it’s 74.
In 1999, 49.4 percent of 10th-grade students at White River High School were reading at standard. In 2012, that number is 86.6.
Thanks in part to a new curriculum and some hands-on classroom instructional aides, science test scores have zoomed from a district low of 21.1 percent in 2003 to 74.8 this spring.
Fifth-grade science scores have jumped from 39.9 in 2012 to 76.3 this year.
Science test scores at White River High hovered around 21 percent when Jacobsen arrived in 2003. By 2010 they had increased to 44.2 percent. White River students scored 75.6 on the End of Course biology test this spring.
White River is one of 11 school districts in the state singled out for participation in Response to Intervention, a multi-level prevention system supported, in part, through a grant.
Jacobsen doesn’t hold back when he says RTI is intense.
The program starts with screening for students who are not making benchmarks, in this case, three times a year for students in grades K-8, but White River also has implemented the program at the high school.
In addition to continued core instruction, RTI calls for intense intervention, typically in small groups, monitoring progress, in most cases weekly, and analyzing data, usually with other teachers who share the same student. There is also a piece for students who are overachieving.
“You need committed staff, strong building leadership, time and a mindset that we’re going to do everything we can to increase this kid’s skills and bring them to level,” Jacobsen said.
Not Resting on Laurels
The success has been encouraging but the work continues.
A new social studies curriculum hit sixth through 12th grade this fall. It’s part of the district’s move to tie technology and learning together to increase rigor.
Online textbooks keep content fresh and students engaged. The social studies curriculum introduced is web-based with each classroom outfitted with laptop computers that access the text and online research, as well as aid in reading and writing.
A similar program is in place for math.
And, Jacobsen said, although the district is celebrating, there’s room to improve, especially at the middle school level.
“It gives us feedback about the work we’re doing and encourages us to keep doing it,” Jacobsen said of this year’s round of test scores. “We don’t plan to change anything. We may need to tweak what we have to be effective all the time, for every kid.”