Arapahoe School shifts from lowest scores to steepest gains

2012-12-07T23:55:00Z Arapahoe School shifts from lowest scores to steepest gainsBy ELYSIA CONNER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
December 07, 2012 11:55 pm  • 

ARAPAHOE, Wyo. — Arapahoe School in Fremont County achieved dramatic gains on assessments and met federally mandated requirements in Adequate Yearly Progress for the first time. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school had some of the state’s lowest scores but now boasts dramatic improvements.

“I have never seen these gains in a single year for a school in Wyoming,” said Kevin Lewis, in charge of research and special initiatives for the Wyoming Department of Education.

The increases include the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in math increasing from about 30 percent to 56 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to data provided by the Wyoming Department of Education. For fifth grade, numbers rose from 43 to 61 percent scoring at least proficient. Grades tested in science grew more than 20 percent. In reading, fifth graders improved from about 33 percent proficient to 60 percent proficient. Officials also noted the big difference between 18.4 percent of third graders testing at least proficient to 58.5 percent of fourth graders testing proficient by the end of fourth grade. The Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students tests students in reading and math each spring.

District officials don’t credit one reason but a combination of efforts: more consistent teaching strategies, a new math program, better handling of behavior issues, a state program that provided additional reading help for some students and boosting family involvement.

Last year, the school started improvement efforts required by the U.S. Department of Education for not meeting AYP requirements for a number of years. The school this year reached the AYP benchmarks through safe harbor — a provision that allows schools who wouldn’t otherwise make the benchmark to do so through significant improvement of subgroups.

The school also is in the middle of a three-year, $1.2 million School Improvement Grant used to fund positions like a math coach and curriculum materials for teachers.

Roy Hoyle is the director of federal programs for Fremont School District 38, where the school is located. He said he’s not sure various improvement efforts were implemented with much fidelity until the middle of last year, when Superintendent Jonathan Braack started. Turnover in the district and in the school leadership hindered those efforts, he said.

Braack said teams of educators, called Professional Learning Communities, formed in 2011 and since January have intensely focused on aligning curriculum throughout classrooms and grade levels, teaching strategies and assessment of student data.

A new discipline program removes disruptive students from classrooms, so less class time is lost for behavioral issues.

A program called WYR provided one-on-one reading instruction to 125 of the school’s 301 students in grades one through eight. The program, which was not continued at the school this year, was another of several contributing factors, Braack said.

District officials and faculty members also have been working to create more family events and better involve parents and guardians.

Fourth-grade teacher Connie Vincent credits consistent improvement of teaching methods and programs and various improvement efforts. Some students can be very disruptive, so the new system to remove them from the classroom made a major difference in her class, she said.

Fifth-grade teacher Sheila Stark attributes much of the gains to “dang hard work by the certified teachers."

A new math program called EXCEL was piloted last year in fourth and fifth grades. Those grades showed the biggest gains in the subject.

A new focus on reading comprehensions also is making a difference. Hoyle said he can hear the improvement in how students are reading this year. Last year, students just read through the words with no inflection, not pausing between sentences, he said. With a new focus in comprehension, students are understanding more and having lively class discussions.

“What does the word ‘ripe’ mean?” Vincent asked her fourth-graders Thursday. Several said “juicy.” A discussion ensued about the definition, with an example from the book about a field of grain.

“What magic object did Demeter carry?” she asked later. Students told her the magic torch can never go out.

Parent Leslie Spoonhunter said her daughter had been struggling in math last year but made honor roll this fall for the first time in years. Both of Spoonhunter's children are earning better grades in math and reading, she added.

Lori Brown has two grandchildren she’s raising in the schools. She said she feels much more welcome in the school this year. Before, she felt she needed a reason to be at the school. She’s noticed others feel the same and that more family activities are happening this school year.

“They know that it’s their school, and they’re welcome at any time,” Brown said. “We have a really, really good superintendent, and he’s really brought this school up to where it should be."

Overall, she’s noticed a more positive feeling in the school and students want to go to school more.

The majority of students in Arapahoe school live in poverty, according to Braack.

But the students have the ability to achieve, he said. Evidence since August suggests students are continuing to make strides. People often cite reasons that students there can’t achieve because of their circumstances.

“Well, they’re sure not showing that right now,” Braack said.

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