Davis IB Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi has recently been ranked as Mississippi’s top elementary school.1 For five years and counting, the school has achieved an A grade in the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) accountability ratings. The state superintendent recognized the students for achieving the highest reading proficiency in the state. But when asked to comment on her school’s latest honors, Dr. Kathleen Grigsby, principal, channels a legendary college football coach. She says, “We’re going to celebrate; we’ve worked really hard. But that was last year. Just hours after winning a national championship, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban was already reviewing game film and strategizing for the next season. We feel the same way—time to get back to work.”2
Grigsby says that while Davis IB routinely achieves top-10 ratings, maintaining those rankings can be particularly challenging for a school offering an advanced academic program. “Mississippi’s school grading system, for example, awards points based on both standardized testing results and student growth, particularly in the lowest quartile. Most of our students are already performing well above grade levels, so ensuring their continuous improvement necessitates very precise skills assessment and individualized instruction. For fast, accurate assessments, we use Renaissance Star Reading®, Renaissance Star Math®, and Renaissance Star Early Literacy® throughout the school year. Renaissance data provides the basis for a cyclical process of assessment, review by focused instructional teams (FIT), and differentiated instruction that helps us ensure every student achieves both proficiency and growth.”
The challenge: Maintain leading high achievement and growth in a struggling district
Davis IB is one of 38 elementary schools within Jackson Public Schools, the second-largest district in Mississippi. An urban district, Jackson has struggled to improve its accreditation status and MDE letter grade, which is based on results from Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) testing. Beset by both academic and facilities issues, the district is working to identify areas for improvement. One of the district’s strategies is to build on the success and share among all schools the best practices of its four A-grade schools, including Davis IB.
In 2005, Davis IB became an International Baccalaureate World School, the first in Mississippi authorized to offer the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP). Grigsby estimates that some 75 percent of the school’s 285 K–5 students are considered gifted. “We use Star assessments to screen applicants, typically requiring scores between the 60th and 75th percentiles in both math and reading. Our program is by definition challenging, so we want to make sure that incoming students have the best chance of success.”
Grigsby says that while a high-achieving population would seem to give the school an advantage on rankings, an A rating requires achieving at least 455 points out of 700, only 300 of which can be earned through proficiency. Remaining points are awarded based on growth—a maximum of 200 for individual growth and up to 200 for lowest-quartile growth in reading and math. “It’s not unusual for one of our fifth graders to be reading at a twelfth-grade level. You can imagine the challenge of achieving incremental growth at that level.”
The results: Predictable proficiency and growth, data-informed instruction, and reading excellence
Grigsby’s approach includes a continued emphasis on proficiency combined with tailored instruction that is more often focused on enrichment than remediation. “To closely monitor student progress, we strive to run a Star assessment during academic units that run six weeks each. At a minimum, we expect a 50-point annual improvement—representing one grade level of growth—in every child’s student growth percentile. We’ve found that Star assessments predict performance on the MAP tests within 90 to 100 percent accuracy for both reading and math, so we’re able to very reliably forecast each student’s proficiency, as well as growth points that the school will earn at year end.”
Throwing data FITs
Davis IB educators follow the IB PYP transdisciplinary approach, developing curriculum focused on issues across subject areas rather than teaching each subject in isolation. But Davis IB does set aside differentiated instruction time of 60 to 90 minutes three afternoons each week. During that time, students receive individual or small-group instruction to help them achieve proficiency or to enhance skills beyond mastery.
“We derive both the areas of concentration and the groupings from our Star Math and Star Reading data,” continues Grigsby. “Each cycle we review the most recent assessments during focused instructional team meetings—that educators playfully refer to as throwing FITs—where we develop strategies and identify resources for the differentiated instruction. To deliver that instruction and ensure an effective student-teacher ratio, we pull in a variety of resources, including special-subject teachers, gifted students teachers, instructional assistants, and others.
“We also use Star data in our teacher support team processes, to guide Tier 1 classroom instruction, generate growth reports, and much more. In my experience, Star solutions provide the most efficient means to measure and promote progress, particularly for schools in states where growth factors heavily in overall performance.”
Lunching with the librarian—more fun than recess!
Grigsby also cites the school’s success with the Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360® practice program, which helps teachers monitor reading progress and motivates students with a broad selection of leveled books and integrated nonfiction content.
“The variety of books particularly suits the diverse reading interests of advanced students, and the correlation with Star assessment data is invaluable. We factor Accelerated Reader 360 quiz results into student grades and stress to parents the importance of helping them achieve their individual point goals. But school librarian Kacy Hellings is really our Energizer Bunny™ of motivation. She infuses a passion for reading in the most reluctant of readers. Even when students meet their Accelerated Reader 360 goals ahead of schedule, they don’t stop reading—they just kept going and going! It’s not unusual for students to spend recess in the computer lab taking Accelerated Reader 360 quizzes or talking books over lunch in the library with Ms. Hellings.”
Like Saban, who famously said after Alabama’s first national title, “This is just the beginning,’’3 Grigsby believes that Davis IB’s success is on-going, a true team endeavor that represents the concerted and continuing efforts of educators, students, and parents. “It’s also about high expectations and every person holding every child accountable, no matter their background. Together we’re committed to providing our children with a safe, engaging, and happy learning environment. When children walk through our doors, we want them to sense the family environment, to understand that we expect them to work hard and that we’re blessed to have them here.”
1 Source: https://www.schooldigger.com/go/MS/schoolrank.aspx
2 Source: http://www.al.com/alabamafootball/index.ssf/2016/01/hours_after_alabama_won_title.html
3 Source: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/17427220/nick-saban-speech-launched-alabama-crimson-tide-dynasty