Schools’ plan addresses test scores

Rappahannock County Public Schools principals Michael Tupper and Cathy Jones gave a joint  informative talk at the school board’s meeting last Tuesday night (Sept. 10), outlining the many steps being taken to help improve students’ scores in math, reading and English on this year’s SAT, ACT and Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

The ACT, though similar to the SATs in that both are accepted by colleges, is a five-part test focusing on what students have learned in school, rather than measuring students’ aptitude, as the SAT tests are designed to do.

Tuesday night, superintendent Donna Matthews presented the board with Rappahannock students’ ACT scores from the previous year, each of which were ahead of the national averages in English, math, reading and science. Rappahannock’s ACT scores, Matthews said, had also improved greatly over the 2009 results.

As part of an effort to further enhance those scores — and address the decline in scores caused statewide by the introduction last year of higher SOL standards in math and English — high school principal Tupper and the elementary school’s Jones presented an instructional improvement plan to the board.

Jones said the elementary school’s partnership with Headwaters will “work closely with the Starfish READ program to expand” and begin an emphasis on math, including introducing word problems to students in kindergarten and second grade.

“That way they’ll already be familiar with the problems when they see them later,” said Jones.

The third-grade math program has been expanded from 60 to 90 minutes, Jones said, and teachers have been asked to recommend math students for additional lessons two or three times a week. All math levels will also now incorporate the use of vocabulary flash cards to further familiarize students with math terms and send them home for supplemental homework practice.

Instruction continues with the teachers as well, as Jones is attending a Region IV Math Conference which will focus on developing a strong math program, while the other teachers are attending a math SOL institute hosted by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to learn more about the test’s updates.

At the high school level, Tupper told the board that the eighth-grade schedule now includes an extra 30 minutes of remediation, while a new class has been added specifically for those eighth graders who failed the seventh grade SOL. That class, Tupper said, meets twice a week, in addition to the students’ regular math classes.

Tupper also said that a new math class, Algebra Functions and Data Analysis, has been added to the curriculum to help “further develop students’ math scores after Algebra 1.” Teachers have also identified “areas of weakness” from last year’s SOLs that need to be addressed.

The focus then shifted to reading, as Jones told the board RCES had adopted a new reading textbook, “Literacy by Design,” that better matched the new SOL standards. Librarian Barbara Wheatley will also be tutoring small groups of third graders daily.

Similar to the math conference, Jones said she’s sending two teachers to a VDOE conference focusing on the revamped English SOL.

At the high school level, Tupper said instructional coordinator Shannon Grimsley and Janet Jenkins are working to create a reading remediation class for eighth graders who failed the seventh grade reading SOL, which will meet once a week. After-school tutoring (from 3:30 to 5) will be available both semesters this year, Tupper announced.

Meanwhile, a goal of an overall increase in writing has been set at the high school level, with students performing a timed in-class writing assignment monthly. Those essays will then be “scored” by other members of the English department, Tupper said. “Examples of exemplary writing will be highlighted,” Tupper continued, with the goal being for each student to establish a portfolio of their best writing.

Matthews also announced that RCHS received a math-science partnership grant from the VDOE which will allow two RCHS math teachers to earn their Master’s degrees in education (with a focus on math) in three years at almost no cost. The classes, through Radford University, are online and, when completed, will allow RCHS to offer dual-enrollment math classes in partnership with Lord Fairfax Community College.

“I’m really tickled with this,” Matthews said. “Math is a much-needed area for us.”