By Jennifer Wohlleb
When Jacyln Risden-Smith was hired as Spencer County Schools’ director of Exceptional Child Services in 2009, she presented the schools with 13 strategies they could implement to improve student proficiency in reading and math.
At the end of the first year, the results were telling: two schools that adopted a majority of the strategies saw large gains among exceptional students, while the other two schools that adopted far fewer saw smaller, even negative gains among their students.
“After the first year, I had buy-in from the two schools that I didn’t have buy-in from in the first year,” she said.
Risden-Smith, right, detailed her district’s successes during a clinic session at KSBA’s 76th annual conference.
Since 2009, exceptional students districtwide in Spencer County have seen an 18 percentage point gain in reading and a 28 percentage point gain in math testing scores.
“Last year our gains in math were the highest in the state,” Risden-Smith said. “What we did to accomplish that, none of these strategies alone are you going to say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing; I’ve never of heard of anything like that.’ These are all things that you have heard of, you may be doing, but each one doesn’t bring these kinds of results in isolation.”
Risden-Smith’s presentation focused on Spencer County’s one-on-one testing approach for qualified students, goal setting and content reinforcement.
“We schedule every child in our district with an (Individual Learning Plan) who needs it to one-on-one testing,” she said. To make that as successful as possible, schools assign a proctor to these students by Sept. 15 so they can begin building a relationship.
“Anyone at the school can be a proctor,” she said. “One autistic student has a custodian for a proctor because he wants to be a custodian more than anything in the world. He has a great relationship with the custodian. It doesn’t matter who it is in their building as long as they’ve had the state-required training.”
The proctors, who are generally chosen for their relationship with the child, are required to meet with their student at least three times a year.
“It’s a mentoring relationship as well as a testing relationship,” she said. “The reason we do that is, proctors are taught that you use that time to teach the student how to use their accommodations;: how to ask for something to be explained if they don’t understand it; if something can be read (to them during the test), because proctors are not allowed to reread something if it’s not requested by the student.”
Risden-Smith said the relationship also creates accountability for the student.
“They learn that they have to ask for something to be reread, that during the test the (proctor) isn’t going to be able to tell the (student) they need to put more effort into their open response question, (that) they need to work out their problem on paper,” she said. “So it holds that child accountable and they want to do what their proctor asks them.”
Schools also try to keep the child and proctor together year after year, which helps the relationship.
Celebrating is also one of the strategies of success.
“When scores come back, it’s not just about celebrating when you score proficient, it’s someone you’ve worked with coming up to you and saying, ‘I saw your score and I’m so proud of you. You worked so hard,’” Risden-Smith said.
Students also are working with their proctors to set learning goals as part of their Student Success Plans, something general education students already do, she said.
“The difference with this is, you are sitting with your proctor and discussing one-on-one your goals. That increases achievement because kids are making goals they might not have made before: reading 30 minutes at night; a goal to get proficient in science,” she said. “Whatever they are, making them one-on-one makes a big difference.”
The district also is getting more organized in its re-teaching efforts by offering a content reinforcement elective at the high school.
“It’s a time within the schedule where students get their content from reading, English, math classes retaught until they master it,” Risden-Smith said. “That takes the place of an elective at the high school. Each student gets two electives each year and this takes the place of one of them. It becomes a part of their IEP.”
Not only has this improved test scores and grades, but Risden-Smith said there is anecdotal evidence that this could lead to fewer drop outs.
She said the bottom line is that success is breeding success.
“Students are valuing the work they’ve done and the scores they’ve earned,” she said. “We’ve seen a real shift in how kids respond to these scores.”