The middle grades six through eight at Viper Elementary in Perry County showed “huge, huge jumps in growth” in 2015-16, said Principal Paula Boggs, with a 21 point leap in its gap score.*
She attributed the improvement to two major changes: time and instructional strategies.
“We cut out a lot of wasted time,” Boggs said. For example, the middle school grades were on the same schedule as the elementary grades, with teachers taking students in all grades in groups for bathroom breaks. Boggs said she didn’t think that was necessary for older students.
New instructional strategies were also implemented at the school that incorporated more movement and hands-on activities into learning to get students more involved. This was especially effective for students in gap groups, Boggs said, which at Viper comprise low-income and special education students.
“The teacher is more of a facilitator and the students are actually doing the work; it’s a collaborative, group-type work and the kids love it,” she said.
Special education students benefit from being in the regular classroom and having special education teachers there to collaborate with the regular teachers. “If we put them in the content teacher’s room, they’re getting the content from the master of the content,” she explained. “Then the special ed teacher can collaborate and help them if they need more reinforcement, things like that.”
An individualized approach also is the byword as teachers “name and claim kids,” Boggs said.
“So we’re constantly looking at data and we’re pulling … info to show what skills they’re lacking,” she said. “We’re just real deliberate about naming and claiming kids and the skills they are missing.”
Those same instructional strategies used at Viper have been implemented districtwide, along with common assessments, for the elementary and middle grades, plus exit criteria at each grade, said Cindy Gabbard, the district’s chief academic officer.
“A lot of things districtwide have commonalities,” she said. Those improvements were made last year and the year before and are now bearing fruit, she said.
“We have students that transfer from school to school and we know if we wanted our district as a whole to move forward we had to have commonality among all of our schools, and we have 10 schools,” Gabbard said.