Test scores land Clinton Junior High ‘exemplary’ status

By Tammy Keith Published December 6, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the left, Baylee Greffen, Samantha Thompson and Yareth Landa study in the library at Clinton Junior High School. The school was recently recognized as “exemplary” in achievement by the state of Arkansas under a new accountability status system for measuring academic success in school districts.

— Clinton Junior High School Principal Mark Gammill is planning a party.

The school has been named “exemplary” in achievement in the state’s new accountability status.

“One thing that made us excited about it, we were named an exemplary school last year, too,” Gammill said.

“Our test scores are very — I don’t want to say great, but they’re good. In the categories we’re receiving the honor for, No. 1, they look at achievement gaps in the subpopulations,” he said.

“The gap should be small,” he said, “so that you don’t have a wide discrepancy from your resource room to GT (gifted and talented) kids.”

The evaluation looked at the gains in test scores, too.

Clinton Junior High has seventh- and eighth-graders who take the state Benchmark exams, and ninth-graders who take the End of Course Test in Algebra 1.

Gammill said schools are in transition from the federal No Child Left Behind law to Common Core State Standards, a set of nationwide educational standards adopted by most of the country for what students in K-12 need to know in English/language arts and math.

“It’s really what’s going to take the place of No Child Left Behind,” he said.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2003 called for all students to achieve at their grade level in math and reading on state tests by the 2013-14 school year.

“The [common core] standards are more specific in areas of literacy and math, and then we’ll be teaching literacy standards across the curriculum,” he said.

Schools originally were required to have all students score proficient on the state Benchmark exams by 2013, a goal that was unreachable for all students, Gammill said, adding that most educators agreed.

“There’s been a waiver, but we’re still having to make growth,” Gammill said. “We’re working to continually improve student achievement.”

School districts were ranked by the National Office for Research on Measurement and Evaluation Systems, or NORMES, which is based at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and has a contract with the state Department of Education to produce statistical reports.

“The significant thing is that we made tremendous gains in the eighth grade,” said Lora Hinchey, test coordinator for the district. “In math, from 2011 to 2012, we made a 24 percent gain. That seems to be our biggest area of growth.”

Students’ scores increased from 55 percent proficient or advanced in math in 2011 to 79 percent in 2012.

“We’re trying a double block of math in seventh and eighth grades. For one semester, they have two periods of math,” she said. “Both teachers and students have expressed enthusiasm for having more time to focus on math. They also use technology and websites such as ConnectEd and iXL.”

Hinchey said both seventh- and eighth-graders made gains in literacy.

In seventh-grade, 62 percent scored proficient or advanced in literacy last year, which increased to 74 percent in 2012, she said.

In eighth-grade literacy, “we moved from 77 percent [in 2011] to 88 percent,” she said.

Hinchey is also curriculum administrator for grades seven through 12.

“We met in teams and let teachers plan out more working days where they could collaborate. They actually had time to work together collaboratively within the school year,” she said.

Gammill said about 70 percent of the district and the junior high school qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“That’s one of the subpopulations, and the socioeconomic status of some of the kids makes achieving for them sometimes challenging,” Gammill said.

Despite that, Hinchey said, economically disadvantaged students made gains on the tests, as did students with disabilities.

For example, in the economically disadvantaged subgroup in eighth-grade math, 33 students scored basic or below basic in 2011, which dropped to 12 students scoring in those categories in 2012.

Gammill said he has a couple of explanations for the district’s success.

“The only really two things I would credit it to are, No. 1, the teachers, with my curriculum administrators, have done a great job in analyzing the data in where we were strong and where we were weak. With teacher input, we have looked at strategies and instructional techniques we could employ,” he said.

Secondly, “team building is a very important component of it. Our professional development that we’ve done the last three years has been specifically targeted to the areas we needed to address,” Gammill said.

“To have done this two years consecutively is a real tribute to my teachers and staff,” he said.

Some classified employees work as instructional aides and help with tutoring, he said.

“They’ve done a fantastic job with these kids,” Gammill said.

“We’re going to celebrate with our teachers and our community,” he said.

“I’m looking at what I’m going to do with the kids, too. That’s still on the drawing board, then to do a good job of informing our community of our success and celebrate our success with our community as well.”

The revised accountability system includes five categories of achievement for schools: exemplary, achieving, needs improvement, focus and priority schools, which are the lowest-achieving schools.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said in an earlier report by the

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that after data is analyzed, more schools could be added to the exemplary list.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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