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WCSD: Middle level idea working

September 28, 2010
The middle level philosophy is working in Warren County School District. That’s the unanimous message given by the middle level principals to the curriculum, instruction and technology committee Monday night. As a follow-up to the decision that instituted major changes at the middle level — grades six, seven and eight — administrators reported on the problems and successes that have gone along with the program. “There are some really good things happening in Warren County middle schools because of the changes you made,” Eisenhower Middle High School Principal Gary Weber said. “I really believe you made the right decision going with this route,” Youngsville Elementary Middle School Principal Eric Mineweaser said. The major change was an increase in the length of the core subjects — language arts, math, science, and social studies — to one hour each. While there are fewer periods in the day than there were in middle schools before the changes, resulting in fewer electives, there are a variety of opportunities available to students during exploratory periods. Director of Secondary Education Amanda Hetrick went through some statistics from the middle levels and the principals spoke about their respective schools. According to the data, there were improvements in test scores among many middle level students, with Beaty-Warren Middle School and Youngsville Middle School showing the most dramatic changes. At Beaty in 2009-2010, 17 percent more sixth grade students were in the advanced or proficient range in reading and 21 percent in math, compared to the same group of students’ results from fifth grade the year before. Those increases were from 61 percent to 78 percent in reading and 67 percent to 88 percent in math. Beaty showed increases across the board, with eighth graders improving by 3 percent to 89 percent in reading and by 2 percent to 91 percent in math, and seventh graders moving up 11 percent (to 88 percent) in reading and 4 percent (to 88 percent) in math. The PSSA scores at Youngsville all rose last year compared to the same groups of students the year before. Seventh graders moved up 14 percent (to 82 percent) in reading and 26 percent (to 81 percent) in math. The eighth graders advanced 13 percent to 79 percent in reading and 10 percent to 79 percent in math. In sixth grade, the percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced in reading went up 4.3 percent to 52 percent, and in math 7.3 percent to 67 percent. The results at Eisenhower and Sheffield, both new to the middle level philosophy, were not as positive. Seventh graders at Sheffield showed improvement in both reading (52 to 57 percent advanced or proficient) and math (61 to 64 percent) compared to the same group of students the year before. The eighth graders improved by 6 percent to 52 percent in reading, but lost ground in math — from 56 to 53 percent. In sixth grade, 7.8 percent fewer students tested in the proficient or advanced category in reading and 9.7 percent fewer in math. The scores at Eisenhower remained the most steady of all the schools, but only one class showed an increase in reading and none improved in math. Eighth graders increased 7 percent (to 82 percent) in reading and no change (77 percent) in math. Sixth graders lost 3.3 percent (to 76 percent) in reading and 1.4 percent (to 81 percent) in math, and seventh graders lost a fraction of 1 percent (to 72 percent) in reading and 4.6 percent (to 76) percent in math. According to Hetrick, the attendance statistics for all of the middle schools were consistent — “we really don’t see anything too shocking.” “We did see some results in discipline data,” she said. Discipline reports — tardiness, fights, insubordination or any other violation of the student code — were down by almost 30 percent at Eisenhower and about 17 percent at Youngsville. At Sheffield, discipline events were up 32 percent, while at Beaty the reports went up 53 percent. Sheffield Principal Amy Beers said most of the discipline problems were at the beginning of the year. “We had a difficult start but did improve tremendously,” she said. At Beaty, there were five fewer discipline events in seventh grade, two more in eighth grade, and 132 more in sixth grade. A statistical “blip” was blamed for that change. There were only nine discipline events in sixth grade at Beaty in 2008-2009. The 141 in 2009-2010 was a much less surprising number and more in line with the other grades, Hetrick said. “Discipline (problems) may go up because expectations go up,” Weber said. “When you do this, you open yourself up to finding flaws.” Another factor in favor of the changes is an increased focus on communication, especially with parents. Committee member Kim Angove said she expected the students are flexible, more accepting of change, and asked about feedback from parents. “Parent feedback has been very positive,” Hetrick said. Weber described the level of communication with parents as “a lot more than we ever had. The communication has increased ten-fold.” The schools have been working toward becoming “Schools to Watch.” The program identifies schools that are doing things right in the areas of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, and social equity. “They go through your school and pick it apart,” Weber said. Schools to Watch are then opened up for teachers and administrators from other schools around the world to visit and learn from. The schools are moving through the process. Even if they are not selected, the examination is a good experience for the administrators. Decker said the Schools to Watch process “identified some ways we needed to improve.” The next meeting of the committee will be held following the physical plant and facilities meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, at the Warren County Career Center.


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