Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2006

High school principal floats proposal to raise math scores

February 15, 2006

What would happen if students who don't perform at a certain level on state math assessments had to give up an elective, such as band or art?

Tonganoxie High School Principal Tatia Shelton is betting students would take the math tests more seriously and, as a result, local test scores would improve.

On Monday, Shelton outlined a two-pronged approach to helping students perform better on math assessments.

School officials are ensuring that students are being taught information that will appear on the annual statewide tests. That's been a problem in recent years, according to Shelton and Tammie George, assistant principal at Tonganoxie Elementary School who also heads the district's curriculum committee.

"There were 20 to 25 kids who had not had the geometry before they had to take the test," Shelton said. "All (scores)

were in unsatisfactory and basic. They could have potentially moved up had they had the appropriate curriculum."

In addition to ensuring the junior high and high school are following the correct curriculum, Shelton said district employees are talking with other districts that have improved their math scores and they plan to attend a national math conference this year.

However, Shelton said, the effects of these changes won't be clear for at least one year -- and maybe two.

"We could sit back and wait and see if these changes work," she told the school board.

But Shelton is impatient for Tonganoxie students' scores to improve.

So she's contemplating a bold approach.

Under the plan that Shelton outlined Monday night for the seven school board members -- and one that board members tabled until the March board meeting -- students would have to score at a certain level or be required to take extra math classes. That extra math class -- called a tutorial -- would take the place of an elective class, such as speech or forensics.

This would underscore for students the importance of taking the tests. The principal is hoping that student apathy about the tests would disappear -- and scores would rise as students are motivated.

"For some of them it would be, 'Wow, I want to take those classes, so I'd better do well,'" Shelton said. "My goal is not to take kids out of their electives programs. ... I'm hoping the scare tactic will motivate kids to work to their potential."

It's possible, too, Shelton said, to devise a plan that would offer extra math help during the summer.

But Superintendent Richard Erickson was lukewarm to that idea.

"During the school year, we've got a captive audience," he said. "We lose them during the summer."

Students' jobs, family trips and camps all get in the way of summer school.

"Math and reading are so important, and you have to emphasize that," the superintendent said.

Shelton hopes to target reading, once the district settles on a plan to help with math scores.

Erickson said Tonganoxie's math score -- of 47.8 of students at the proficient level or above -- was the second-lowest among all schools in the county.

"We're trying to begin to attack where we are weak," he said.

Shelton said the district could set the threshold for determining who is required to take tutorial math wherever it wants.

And to provide the extra help with math, Shelton proposes the district hire another math teacher. That instructor would have smaller classes and provide individual instruction to students.

"Eventually, we're going to need them, anyway, with our numbers growing the way they are," she said.

In 2005, the local math performance score was 47.8 percent, which met state requirements. But that number is down from 50 percent two years ago, Shelton said.

"What kind of parental reaction do you think we would get from this kind of program?" board member Ron Moore asked.

"I would hope it would be supportive," Shelton said.

"But what do you think we're going to get?" Moore asked, drawing laughter from other board members.

Board members did not reach consensus on the issue Monday night and said they would like to consider it again at a future board meeting.

On Monday, the school board also:

  • Heard from Tatia Shelton, Tonganoxie High School principal, that senior Micah Titterington is a national merit finalist. Beginning in April, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will begin announcing the names of winners in its scholarship program. Titterington was named a semifinalist in September. According to the national merit corporation, about 90 percent of the semifinalists reach finalist standing and approximately half of the finalists will be selected as Merit Scholarship winners. A total of 8,200 Merit Scholarship awards, worth $33 million, will be offered to finalists.
  • Heard an update on the school construction projects, funded by a $25.3 million bond issue that voters approved in November 2004. Kris Roberts, construction manager for Turner Construction, said work is progressing. "I think we're moving along, and we're right where we wanted to be," she said. A mild winter has helped. "We've been very lucky," she said.
  • Following an 80-minute executive session to discuss non-elected personnel, voted to extend Superintendent Richard Erickson's contract for another year, to June 2008; accepted the resignation of Erin Lemke, a sixth-grade teacher; hired Chris Parkin as assistant track coach; hired Richard Riedel as van driver; extended contracts by one year for all school principals, assistant principals and the athletics/activities director.

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