Closer look at schools plan

Improvement strategy for 15 targeted facilities is gaining momentum

`A lot of training, support'

Data analysis seen as key tool to assist struggling students

April 26, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Last month, Howard school officials unveiled a plan to improve performance in its struggling schools and eliminate a so-called achievement gap. Though it was called "bold" and "audacious" by some, it was a work in progress - more sizzle than steak.

Last night, board members and top school officials met to digest the unfolding details of the plan, how it is progressing and what administrators and teachers are saying about it.

"The enthusiasm is permeating throughout the county," said Assistant Superintendent Roger Plunkett.

The Comprehensive Plan for Accelerated School Improvement - which will target the county's 15 schools with the lowest test scores or highest percentages of poor students - essentially involves more accountability from teachers, principals and central office staff.

School Improvement Plans will be rewritten, with central office help. Teachers will take part in more compulsory training. Data will be equally shared between schools and the central office.

A revelation for some board members last night was the complicated way student data will be scrutinized to ensure all students' needs are met.

For example, testing director Leslie Wilson showed the board two sets of data from a randomly picked, unnamed school: the percentage of eighth-graders who have passed the Maryland Functional Math Test and the percentage of those eighth-graders who are designated as "below grade level" in math.

Students labeled below grade level are generally slated to receive extra help.

"See here," Wilson said, pointing to a chart, "10 percent of students are getting help in math, but only 46 percent are passing the math test [by the end of eighth-grade]. So you can see the real disconnect. There are a lot more children who need help."

A major part of the plan, Wilson said, will focus on training teachers and principals to use such data more efficiently to reach children who might be overlooked.

"As you can see, some of you are struggling with understanding this data," said Robert Glascock, the system's director of curricular programs. "Well, think about the teachers. They have to do the same things except with a lot more data points. It takes a lot of training, a lot of support."

Teams of central office employees have been presenting the terms of this plan to school leaders over the past several weeks. Plunkett said the fresh look at data analysis has been eye-opening to some.

"One principal said to me, `I have a high-performing school, but I have never analyzed the data for my free- and reduced-price [lunch] students the way I did today, and I've failed them and I've got work to do,'" Plunkett said.

Plunkett also said improved technology will help make the system more seamless.

"If a student is moving from school A to school B, school B will have that [testing and placement] information just like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

Central office staff members will be more involved in improving student performance in many ways, not just data analysis. They will also be concerned with school morale issues, Glascock said.

"It's not the fancy computers or the new furniture," Glascock said. "It's the school climate where people feel supported. They feel they're being recognized for the things they do. They feel they're making an impact on student performance."

To help in that area, the human resources department is developing a teacher incentive package, Glascock said, that will be "very attractive to the teachers in those 15 schools."

Most important, Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Kimberly Statham said, the 15 schools will get more direction than ever.

"I personally support that," said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French. "When you see a continuous decline, that's where you need to step in."

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