Test scores, faculty retention on upswing at restructured Midvale Elementary

Test scores, faculty retention on upswing at restructured Midvale Elementary

(Steve Griffin, KSL)

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MIDVALE — It's almost the end of the school year, but no one is easing up at Midvale Elementary School.

Student are engaged in active learning that will continue until the school recesses for summer break on June 6.

"Teachers are in classrooms giving high-quality instruction all day long. Kids are learning. Everyone's still focused on accomplishing our goal, which is to get them ready for middle school. Nobody is really slowing down," said Principal Chip Watts.

The school is in the midst of an aggressive restructuring effort that is resulting in higher test scores and a school climate that is far more conducive to learning and teaching, Watts said.

This school year, Midvale Elementary had a goal of 60 percent of its students achieving typical growth or above in reading and math.

"We've seen that happen in several grade levels, not quite all of our grade levels yet. But we're seeing the rates of growth increase over previous years by 10 and 15 percent in our DIBELS scores," said Watts, referring to Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills testing.

Preliminary RISE test results in math "show 100 percent, 200 percent gains in the percentage of students that are scoring proficient," Watts said.

For example, 11 percent of third-graders were proficient in math last year. Now 33 percent are proficient, according to preliminary results.

The school seeks higher proficiency rates than 20 to 30 percent and is working toward that end. Historically, proficiency rates at Midvale Elementary have been in the single digits or low teens, so this is "phenomenal growth. We're excited about that," he said.

Discipline referrals are down, too. On most days, just one or two of the school's 770 students is sent to the school office.

Midvale Elementary School third-grade student Kylie Lancaster works from a laptop in Midvale on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)
Midvale Elementary School third-grade student Kylie Lancaster works from a laptop in Midvale on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

"That's big. Kids aren't down in the office in trouble. They're in class learning," Watts said.

The changes have also resulted in a significant spike in the school's teacher retention rate.

In recent years, more than half of Midvale Elementary's teachers left the school at the end of the academic year.

This year, only four teachers won't be returning in the fall, which represents an 89.5 percent teacher retention rate. Two are international guest teachers going back to their home countries, one is leaving the teaching profession and another has chosen not to return.

"People are excited about staying. They're excited about picking up where we leave off this year and taking things even further next year. So it's a really positive climate and culture at Midvale right now," Watts said.

In February, the Utah State Board of Education gave the school two years to improve its academic performance or face sanctions.

The board's decision came after the school, identified for turnaround in 2015, was unable to exit that status after three years. Turnaround schools are those in the lowest 3 percent of student achievement statewide as measured by end-of-year tests in math, language arts and science.

In 2015, Midvale's school grade was a "D," according to the state report. Three years later, the school grade was an "F."

This fall, the school activated an aggressive school restructuring plan, which maximizes instructional time.

Classroom instruction is buttressed by the school's academic support team, led by a full-time assistant principal. The team includes two achievement coaches and 14 teaching assistants.

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The school uses a two-teacher model that allows and encourages educators to teach to their strengths. For example, one teacher teaches math to all students in the grade while his or her colleague instructs all English language arts classes.

"That in and of itself has translated into some improved instruction in our school," he said.

Teachers have two opportunities a day to teach each lesson.

"If you're going through things in the morning and it didn't quite go the way you wanted, you've got a chance to adjust and make some changes and reflect on what you can do better in the afternoon," Watts said.

"As a former middle school teacher, I can tell you I never taught the same thing in seventh period that I did in first period. It changed all throughout the day. So our teachers are having that opportunity to reflect, adjust and do things differently every day. I think that's helping them become more agile altogether."

The model effectively doubles teachers' planning time because the number of subjects they teach is cut by half.

Teachers are also engaged in professional learning to give them tools and strategies to reach their professional goals and opportunities to work with instructional coaches.

The school also employs a "social emotional support team" led by a full-time assistant principal.

Midvale Elementary School student Jade Aragon listens in kindergarten class in Midvale on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)
Midvale Elementary School student Jade Aragon listens in kindergarten class in Midvale on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

The team includes a school psychologist, social worker, school counselor and two behavior assistants — all full-time employees — as well as a community liaison. The team works to address social, emotional and behavioral needs of students.

Watts said RISE testing is still underway so administrators have yet to see the full picture of how the restructuring is working.

Still, there are many indicators the Title I school is making progress in spite of a 30 percent mobility rate, a sizable population of students who are English learners and many students who are experiencing homelessness.

Particularly gratifying has been the commitment of teachers who want to stay the course and ride the wave of success that comes a willingness to try new things and work hard.

"I think that it really comes down to the restructuring plan that we’ve implemented this year and supports that teachers are feeling and also the success and academic gains teachers are seeing among their students. This is the first year in a long time that teachers are seeing everything that they are doing pay off in terms of student achievement," Watts said.

As the school year comes to a close, the faculty and staff are fatigued because the restructuring plan has required intense effort from everyone who works at the school, Watts said. However, their efforts are bearing fruit.

"It's been a lot of work. Everyone's tired but it's a different kind of tired this year. It's not limping across the finish line," he said.


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Marjorie Cortez


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