Two years after being placed on the “needs improvement” list for not meeting testing benchmarks, Cedartown’s Northside Elementary was honored as one of Georgia’s Outstanding Achievement Schools for improving test scores by 28.6 percent in 2003-2004.
“I think it’s a testament to all the work we’ve done from top to bottom,” David said. “There’s no real magic formula. We just tried to work smarter, not harder.”
Under the No Child Left Behind law, schools must show measurable gains in test scores in reading and writing and in various subgroups determined by race, income level and other factors. Schools that don’t show improvement are placed on the “needs improvement” list.
The accomplishment of Northside Elementary is all the more impressive because 37 percent of its student population is Hispanic; many of them are learning English as a second language.
“Standardized tests are not real forgiving with these students,” David said. “They’ll do well in math, but language arts is more challenging for them.”
Three English as a Second Language teachers have helped these children develop their English skills, and other teachers said students are receiving more individualized attention to improve on the state curriculum test, or CRCT.
“We’ve been tracking each student’s progress closely on a weekly basis,” said first-grade teacher Beverly Ashmore. “Each student gets help with their weaknesses and has their own goals.”
It was also vital that the school raise its math scores, David said, and Northside was able to secure a federal grant that provided teachers with math instruction from Columbus State College professors.
“It was taught here at the school, and it was really about using hands-on examples and activities to help engage the students,” David said.
Another grant also supplied the school with a laptop computer lab, where students practiced arithmetic with various computer programs, he said.
Another first-grade teacher, Leann Newsome, also said that teachers worked with small groups before and after school in an effort to help those who had fallen behind.
All in all, the honor from the state was good news for a district that had mixed results, according to the state’s annual report on whether schools met testing requirements.
“It’s difficult to compare schools, but I think Northside had a well-designed school improvement plan,” said Jean Rhoades, Polk County Schools superintendent. “They have something working over there.”