Little school that could

Published 3:02 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Faith Kendrick, a fifth-grader this year at Shelby Elementary, said she felt special knowing that her class, and the fourth-graders below her, beat every school in the county on math proficiency scores last year.

“If you don’t understand something, your teacher will, like, break it down for you and show you how you are supposed to do it,” Kendrick said.

Shelby Elementary School’s third and fourth-graders achieved the highest math proficiency scores in the county on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test.

Lead math teacher Lisa Carden said changing the focus helped accomplish that.

“For 10 years, we’ve just had them memorizing, but that wasn’t enough,” Carden said. “Now, we spend a lot more time on explorations and investigations. Now, they truly understand what they are learning and how they do it.”

To meet Annual Yearly Progress this year, the school had to see 68 percent of its third-graders achieve at least a three out of five on the ARMT.

A three meant that the student met expectations for where a third-grader should be in his or her math skills. Approximately 95 percent reached that mark.

Out of the 37 third-graders that took the test, only two did not meet that level.

Three other students took a separate AAA evaluation for special education students.

Principal Karen Mitchell had to keep the accomplishment a secret from her staff for two weeks. Mitchell said it was the achievement her school had been waiting for.

“We were just hoping and praying that we had done enough to meet AYP this year,” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of it had to do with being able to provide smaller class sizes with our Title I money. This gives teachers more time with each student, plus it lets us pull kids out to work with a tutor if they are really having trouble.”

Mitchell also credits the higher scores to a change in procedures.

She said teachers take more time to figure out why a student doesn’t understand a particular concept instead of testing and immediately moving on.

Mitchell said now more time is spent on re-teaching a particularly hard section of the curriculum and then retesting to make sure kids got it the second go-around.

Mitchell said she also thinks becoming an Alabama Math and Science Teaching Inititive school will only improve scores.

“Math is a hard subject for a lot of students, but now lessons will involve even more hands-on work,” Mitchell said. “The students can actually see it, which keeps the principles from being so abstract.”

Shelby’s fifth-graders came in second in math proficiency to Oak Mountain Intermediate.

Both Mitchell and Carden said the next step is going even deeper by making science a priority as well through programs like AMSTI.