Education Opinion

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — April 05, 2008 3 min read
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It’s been one hell of a week in New Orleans. The weather has gone from beautiful, windy spring days to frighteningly stormy nights. We’ve had tornado warnings and now the Mississippi river is cresting at a level much higher than usual. These weather changes shouldn’t cause too much concern, but there’s something in the air that has folks jittery.

Our Board meeting was today and after three hours we had discussed a multitude to topics. I had thought that the 2008 -2009 school calendar proposal would generate the most discussion. It didn’t. I had a notion the upcoming National Charter School Conference that will be in New Orleans in June would excite everyone. It didn’t. I figured everyone would be interested in the financial reports. Not. These topics were treated routinely.

Not surprisingly, the topic that stimulated everyone the most was a report by the principal on the current academic standing and demographic retention analysis for our students. We finally have some diagnostic data on reading for all of the students. It’s something I was desperate to have at the beginning of the year, but it was not to be so. We examined the second DIBELS results for grades K-3. 32% still need intensive instruction in reading. 46% are on level. The rest are at the Strategic level, meaning they are at some risk.

Our Lexile/Scholastic Reading Inventory results were equally shocking. We completed testing for all but one class of students in grades three through eight. Six students were Above Grade Level. 80 were On Grade Level. 63 were Below Grade Level. 68 were Far Below Grade Level. Overall, about 60% of our students are below level in reading. It was probably worse back in August when school started. None of this is really news, but we didn’t have the statistical data to quantify our problems before now.

The principal shared a Retention Analysis Report that examined the age appropriateness of our students in seventh and eighth grade. Although I was familiar with some of this data, several of the other Board members hadn’t seen the figures presented so starkly. In one eighth grade class, only three of the sixteen students were in the correct grade. All of the others had repeated grades once or twice. Almost 50% of the seventh grade class failed LEAP in fourth grade. 28% of our current eighth grade class failed LEAP last year. One girl celebrated her Sweet Sixteenth birthday last October at our elementary school. That one made me want to cry.

Earlier in the meeting we were bickering about something inconsequential on the organizational chart. In retrospect, I’m sorry we wasted precious minutes on that when we could have been trying to figure out what to do for our children who are so desperately in need of our help. We have a basal series, but we don’t have a school reading plan so far. It is at the top of our list for the summer teacher institute.

Several sparks of brilliance did come out of the discussion including a summer program for rising eighth grade students and fourth grade students who must take the high stakes tests, a parent involvement component to show parents what is happening to students who do not have strong academic support, enrichment activities so that students will be more interested in and excited about attending school, revamping of the middle school program, and intensive professional development for our teachers.

I’m also hoping that someone in the edweek.org audience will have some ideas to offer. I don’t want to hear from vendors who troll these blogs to sell their programs. I’d rather hear from practitioners who have had success with programs that target severely at-risk students. We need some help.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.