Pike hits peak in CSAP 3rd-grade reading scores
It was a moment worth savoring, and the Pike Elementary staff did their best to make it that way.
On the third-grade classroom chalkboard last week, the day that the 2007 Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) third-grade reading scores were announced, staff wrote Pike's scores on the annual test going back several years. The best was an 85 (meaning 85 percent of the third grade read at a proficient or advanced level) in 2001; the worst was 36 last year.
The year 2007 had a blank space after it. While the students looked on, its number was revealed: 100 percent.
“They were like, whoaaa,” their teacher, Maureen Breckenridge, recalled of that moment. “One little boy I was sitting next to wasn't sure what it meant, so I told him that it meant everyone passed, and he said, 'Even me?' I said, 'You too,' and he started jumping around with everyone else. They were pretty proud of themselves.”
Attaining the magic number - one of only two schools to do so in the Pikes Peak region, and the only one in District 11 - was the result of a hard effort, according to Breckenridge and Principal Manuel Ramsey.
This was a class that, at the beginning of the year, had tested at only 66 percent proficient in reading. Two of the 18 students are learning English as a second language. And, 80 percent of the class qualifies for free or reduced lunches based on family income.
Another Westside school, Howbert Elementary, came close to perfect with a 93, which was good for fourth best in the district. Unlike Pike, Howbert traditionally has scored high on the CSAPs, including a 97 in last year's third-grading reading test.
These tests are taken earlier than the other CSAPs, which cover grades 3-10 and also take in writing and math (and in the higher grade levels, science). The rest of the scores will be announced in August.
Asked how she motivates her students at Pike, Breckenridge said she believes kids “naturally want to do well.” Instead of generically telling them to “do better,” which dulls their interest, she said she works to clarify exactly what she expects from them. She also does little things like moving them to different parts of the classroom to keep them alert, having them sit next to different people to keep them out of trouble and - in keeping with Ramsey's direction - making sure that all kids “participate actively.”
Behind the classroom work is a multi-pronged, “systematic” strategy (to use Ramsey's word) to extract as much learning as possible from a school day and to stay on top of each student's progress. Based on what he was seeing from these activities, Ramsey had quietly predicted several weeks ago that he expected strong results from his third grade this year.
One element in the straategy is an instructional innovation Pike started this year called an “intermediate learning academy.” For grades 3-5, the educational process is set up so that classroom teachers such as Breckenridge (in writing) focus at least part of each day on specialized subject areas across those grade levels.
Another help is a Reading First grant that gives the school a reading coach, teaching materials and staff training for grades K-3. Ramsey obtained the three-year grant two years ago. One boost from the grant is the 90-minute “core reading program” that takes place every day in those grade levels.
The third-graders' 66 percent start-of-the-year rating was based on a short test (similar in style to the CSAP) that reveals students' basic reading strengths and failings. Also used throughout the year, the initial test kicked off a process in which those students - actually, all of Pike's students - were/are individually monitored and evaluated educationally so that every 15th teaching day, when Ramsey meets with his teachers, a specific plan can be implemented for correcting whatever a student's problem is. “What it's all about is responding to data quickly,” he said. “If you do that all year long, you're going to have some very good instruction.”
The meetings themselves are synchronized. They're held in the middle of the day, not after school, because “at the end of the day teachers are sometimes exhausted,” said Ramsey, who taught for many years himself. “The teachers come in, and it's quiet,” he continued, describing what he terms a “data day.” “We move our little tags around on the board, and the writing coach (Kellie Chandler) makes suggestions, and we write lesson plans right there.”
Kids are not neglected during these 90-minute sessions. According to Ramsey, support staff fill in to work with students on other educational areas to make sure no time is lost.
A similar sort of teaching flexibility occurs daily, during a period called “intervention,” where teachers meet with students in groups of four or five and give them projects to work on. According to Breckenridge, this is a good opportunity for teachers to get to know students better and vice-versa. “When you're in a small group, they can't ignore you,” she said.
For Ramsey, interventions are so crucial that they go on even if a teacher is absent. He himself steps in at times. “The year goes by too fast,” he said. “If you miss a few days (of interventions), the kids don't get what they should.”
Parents are also key to success. Ramsey estimated that about half of the third-grade parents are closely involved with their kids' educational efforts. And he seeks their support on new endeavors, such as the academy or a two-month span to provide math/writing “enrichment” classes after school for fourth and fifth graders.
Now in his fourth year at Pike, Ramsey praised the efforts of Breckenridge, who is in her first year at Pike but her 17th year in education.
“I love it here,” she said. “I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be.”
And of course Ramsey is proud of the students. “When you have fabulous kids who want to work hard, the sky's the limit,” he observed.
So, is Pike resting on its laurels, having achieved the highest possible third-grade reading score? Ramsey indirectly answered that question, commenting that the school has started tutoring sessions for this year's second-graders “who aren't meeting benchmarks.” The school is even considering a summertime program for them. After all, they'll be next year's third-graders. “We want to match that 100 percent,” he said.
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