0114 Program reviews

0114 Program reviews

Program reviews in the spotlight

By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff Writer

“Room for improvement” might be a good way to characterize the first-ever results of program reviews, a component of Kentucky’s new assessment and accountability system.

That’s because three-quarters of the state’s districts scored in the “needs improvement” category, the lowest of three rankings. The percentage of individual schools that scored the highest rating of distinguished in any program review area – writing, arts and humanities and practical living/career studies – ranged from 1 percent to 3 percent.

The reviews – which are ongoing throughout the school year – gauge the quality of these school programs against a set of standards, because they are not tested like regular content areas. They do, however, count as 23 percent of a school’s total accountability score for 2013. Schools that have been successful with program reviews tend to share some commonalities, including buy-in from teachers, a user-friendly – and relentless – system for documenting the elements of each program, and success in working program review subjects into all content areas.

Central Hardin High School: Content experts rule

Central Hardin High School – with 1,800 students – has a built-in advantage when it comes to excelling in arts and humanities: it is large enough to offer lots of courses in those areas.

“One of the benefits of teaching here is that because we have so many children, we’re able to break down the arts and have experts going over the different fields,” said Antonio Menendez, who teaches arts and humanities, and various art classes and whose degree is in that field.

“We’re blessed with content masters here,” Principal Tim Isaacs said. Central Hardin was one of five high schools to earn a distinguished in arts and humanities program review.

PHOTO: Students in the Central Hardin High School Symphonic Band practice a performance during class. The school has two bands among its many arts and humanities offerings.

Sophomores there must take the arts and humanities class unless they are already in an arts program. Electives range from graphic arts and sculpting to marching band and drama classes.

But Principal Tim Isaacs said the depth of class offerings is not why the school has seen success with this program review area. “The key to success is that it’s a part of everything you do,” he said. “There’s no separation there.”

But the school’s size can also present a challenge in that having a large teaching staff is not conducive to sharing ideas for working arts and humanities into other content areas.

Beth Rambo, the teacher who coordinates arts and humanities review at the school, said “the main thing (program review) has made us do is expand to the whole school and realize we have to include the whole faculty in what we’re doing.”

The school has an overall program review team, “So we have a common place to make sure everyone is in the know about what we’re doing and vice versa,” she said.

This year, the arts and humanities team began storing their documentation electronically. “It makes it a lot easier in the end to put things on a hard drive into a file and keep it very organized rather than shuffling a lot of paper,” said David Centers, band director and arts and humanities teacher.

Menendez said he takes pictures of student work with his iPad as he walks around the classroom. “I’ve just worked that into my regular routine.”

May Valley Elementary: Where writing is fun

If they were dancing at May Valley Elementary School in Floyd County when the program review scores for writing came in, it may simply have been a normal day. Intermediate-grades teacher Jamie Lawson is the lead teacher for the writing program review and she uses dance, a set of gestures, and music to motivate students and give them a fun way to learn the elements of distinguished-level writing.

PHOTO: Students at Floyd County’s May Valley Elementary School dance as part of teacher Jamie Lawson’s class (pictured left). She said the music and movement motivate students. Student from left are Kade Scott, Carly Lafferty, Victoria Sexton and Savanah Watkins.

“We’re always moving,” she said.

May Valley, with a 75 percent free and reduced-lunch rate, is one of only 10 elementaries in the state with a distinguished writing program review. Principal Greta Thornsberry points to the positive attitude, initiative and teamwork of her staff. “Writing is very difficult, especially for some students because they just don’t have an interest in writing,” she said. “But with the strategies that Mrs. Lawson uses with the kids, she builds the interest.”

Lawson helps other teachers work writing exercises into their content areas. She looks at the standards for those subjects so she knows what’s being taught and then suggests writing ideas that fit. She also works with teachers on instructing students how to write a blog, an email or a letter, for example.

One key to the school’s writing success is that the subject is taught from the beginning, even though it’s not tested for several years. “We actually start from the kindergarten up,” Lawson said. “Writing is a building process – they have to start understanding the concepts.”

This approach also helps takes the pressure off teachers in higher grades, who then get students who already have a foundation in writing, kindergarten teacher Meghan Slone said.

“The intermediate grades, the accountability grades at May Valley, they’re held accountable for so much content that we feel it’s necessary to not leave it on them but to share that burden,” she said.

May Valley also follows the district’s practice of having students keep writing journals that follow them throughout their school career. And Slone said the school’s teachers use the same set of editing marks when reviewing student writing, which establishes consistency.

Cub Run Elementary: Constant connections

In this 200-student Hart County school, collaboration is a big reason for both the elementary and middle school grades scoring distinguished in practical living/career studies – the elementary level is one of nine in the state and the middle level one of four. There is a single teacher for each grade, which makes collaboration a natural.

“We’re a small school, and we all work together,” said Cara Cox, intermediate-grades teacher who leads the practical living/career studies program review effort.
PHOTO: Eighth-graders at Cub Run Elementary in Hart County get ready to go live with their Friday newscast, which can be viewed communitywide over the local public access channel. It’s one of the ways the school strengthens its practical living/career studies program review.

Middle school language arts/social studies teacher Angela Barbour’s reading assignments might include articles on health, consumerism or safety, which are part of practical living. Shanna Smith might be teaching her second-graders about Bach and talking about his career in music.

“No matter what we’re studying, we’re talking about how it’s going to relate to their everyday life someday,” Smith said. The blending of the material, she added, “makes the units more dynamic.”

Cub Run also has tweaked its class schedule to accommodate practical living and career studies classes on alternating Fridays.

The school collaborates with its family resource center on program reviews – the center coordinator brings in community members all year long to talk about their careers, for example, and organizes an annual Career Day for middle schoolers.

Cub Run teachers upload documentation of student program review work, including photos and videos, to an online social learning platform called Edmodo.

The school is in its first year of the Leader in Me approach and Cox said its emphasis on student responsibility melds well with the practical living program review – nearly every student has a “job,” whether it’s helping the custodian or shelving books.

Another key to the success both elementary and middle grades at Cub Run have had in this area is a homemade one: the lead teachers in the program review areas have taken the state education department’s lengthy documents outlining the standards and boiled them down to what Principal Nathan Smith calls “a user-friendly check-off sheet” with bullet points in which teachers can easily see whether they are hitting the requirements.

“It shows them exactly what they need to do for us as a school to perform well,” he said.

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