By Madelynn Coldiron
The No. 1 thing about closing the achievement gap, according to administrators in the Calloway County school district, is that there is no No. 1 thing.
“I’ve never believed it’s any one thing,” said Calloway County High School Principal Randy McCallon. “There’s not a magic potion, so to speak. What I do think is it’s a synergy or a coming together of various things.”
Calloway County’s schools have moved their gap score upward at every level for the past three years; its high school in particular has led the way, going from a 37-point gap score in 2011-12 to 49.5 for 2013-14. That compares with the statewide average gap score of 34.9 for high schools.
McCallon lists many strategies he believes factored into that increase. “It’s just a combination of things you continually tweak. Hopefully, one strategy catches this number of kids and maybe these two or three (strategies) impact these kids, and this other thing you’re doing extracurricular impacts and motivates these kids to do better,” he said.
District Assessment Coordinator Brian Wilmurth said those strategies themselves are constantly in flux. “One year you may spend 70 percent of your time using these four strategies and the other 30 percent of the time using another six. And then the next year the four that you really focused on the year before may not be the four you focus on this year because the students are different,” said Wilmurth, who is a former principal at the high school.
Calloway County High School has block scheduling, which McCallon thinks may have helped close achievement gaps, since the longer class periods require teachers to use more varied strategies than they would in a regular schedule.
The district has a free and reduced lunch rate of 50-60 percent, and McCarron said in his school, the students from high-poverty homes “mirror our general population,” so students from both groups “are closer in academic dynamics than they might be in other schools. They’re going to live in the same communities.”
Co-teaching is used to help special needs students, placing special education teachers in the classroom with regular teachers to help students who are mainstreamed. This “could potentially have great impact,” on that group of gap students, McCarron said.
The district has an instructional strategy facilitator who works in the three elementary schools to help teachers analyze data and devise strategies to help gap groups and struggling students. It’s also a way of sharing successful practices among the elementaries, Wilmurth said. Another educator works with the middle and high schools on helping teachers in other areas, such as the new evaluation system and use of the state’s online professional development tool.
McCarron pointed to other programs at the high school that may help gap groups as well as other students:
• Extracurriculars: The high school provides as many opportunities as possible for extracurricular and athletic activities, which McCarron said is a motivator for gap students, since they must keep their academic and attendance records good to be involved.
• Academic prep: This is a 40-minute session on Tuesdays and Thursdays for all students, aimed at helping students improve their ACT scores, prepare for the ACT and meet the state’s college and career readiness benchmarks. Students are grouped based on their test scores. For students who have met the benchmarks, there are guest speakers and special units on topics like financial management.
• After-school extended school services for students who fall behind or just want additional tutoring. Wilmurth said the district’s elementaries and the high school also have in-school ESS for those who can’t stay after school.
Districtwide, the middle school and most of the elementary schools have built time into their schedules several days a week to identify students who need help and pull them out to work in small groups, Wilmurth said.
He said the different programs and strategies the district and its schools use have not required the district to hire additional staff. “It’s just being resourceful with the staff you have, with your schedules,” he said. “If this group is at recess, that may give you an extra two or three teachers that might be able to go into this grade level and help with something.”
Laurel Co. Ele 58.9 (2013-14) 51.7 (2012-13) 44.0 (2011-12)
Laurel Co. MS 50.0 (2013-14) 44.5 (2012-13) 39.5 (2011-12)
Laurel Co. HS 35.5 (2013-14) 32.8 (2012-13) 29.5 (2011-12)
Calloway Co. Ele 55.2 (2013-14) 50.4 (2012-13) 47.7 (2011-12)
Calloway Co. MS 51.7 (2013-14) 50.5 (2012-13) 50.3 (2011-12)
Calloway Co. HS 49.5 (2013-14) 47.3 (2012-13) 37.0 (2011-12)
Source: Kentucky Department of Education. Grade level scores combine gap scores of multiple district schools where applicable.