POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KDKZ-TV) Oak Grove earned national recognition for achieving the largest gains in the state for closing the achievement gap among student groups, according to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials.
Missouri Assessment Program scores for English language arts jumped from 46.56 percent in 2016/17 to 81.33 the following year while math scores increased from 48.09 to 61.33 percent proficient or advanced, averaging a 24 percent improvement rate for subgroups, reported DESE’s Amanda Cash.
The elementary school was recognized among 100 distinguished Title I schools across the country during the National Title I Conference held Friday, Feb. 9, in Philadelphia.
“They broke down the walls of the classroom and started looking across the whole building rather than strictly looking at the needs of their own classroom,” explained Patty Robertson, Poplar Bluff R-I assistant superintendent of curriculum. “The students can all get intervention if needed and the interventions are targeted to make sure kids learn. And if they don’t (learn), they reteach.”
Oak Grove Principal Jenifer Richardson, who Robertson called her hero, attributes the extraordinary success to initiatives implemented last year including the school-wide positive behavior support program, focusing on developing a common language for teaching social skills and providing positive reinforcement.
“Our teachers do a great job building confidence in students, making sure they know (their teachers) believe in them, and building that relationship,” Richardson said. “When students know you believe in them, (the students) work hard for it.”
Richardson also credits a reemphasis placed on educators collaborating in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for students, the foundation of the Professional Learning Community model.
“They didn’t buy a new program or spend money to accomplish this,” stated JoAnne Westbook, Poplar Bluff Title I director. Richardson added: “We changed the way we do business. My father always said, ‘Getting players is easy. Getting them to play together is the hard part.’”
Structured team meetings using data to drive instruction take place biweekly at Oak Grove. Reading interventionist Michelle Farmer said what used to be more of a pull-out model is now a full classroom of students working in small groups of differentiated instruction. Third grade teachers break down MAP test questions regularly and work on vocabulary building.
Farmer, who made note it is a group effort, admitted that the change made her a little uncomfortable at first being a 28-year veteran, but she is proud of her “Oak Grove family” for all the progress. “If the data shows it’s working, then it’s what’s best for kids,” Farmer concluded.