The Oregon Board of Education is studying the possibility of reconfiguring grades 5-8 into separate buildings to allow for improvements in academics.
During the board’s June 7 special meeting, Hal Gregory, director of educational services, explained that an exploration committee has been working for the last several months examining what a 5/6 and 7/8 grade reconfiguration might mean to the district in academic improvement.
The school board is looking at turning either Eisenhower or Fassett Middle School into an all fifth and sixth grade school. The other middle school would then become a traditional junior high with seventh and eighth grade students.
Dawn Henry, director of teaching and learning, explained the district was searching for ways to get the Oregon Schools out of “improvement status” in regards to the Ohio Department of Education’s Report Card.
“We have been involved in the Ohio Improvement Process because, as a district, we have not been able to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP),” Henry said. “We have not been able to meet AYP particularly for students with disabilities.”
The ODE uses several categories to rate a school district's performance. Districts receive grade designations of excellent, effective, continuous improvement, academic watch, or academic emergency following state testing.
The district assessments are based on 26 indicators that include results from 28 standardized tests, plus graduation and attendance rates. In order to meet the indicators, 75 percent of the students tested must be at or above the proficient level.
In Oregon, third and fourth grade students met the indicators in math and reading. Fifth and sixth grade students met the state requirement in reading, but fell short in math and science.
Seventh and eighth grade students met the requirements in math and reading, but the eighth grade students did not meet the requirements in science.
AYP is a federal standard that requires school districts to show progress among all student sub groups, including minorities, children from low-income families, those with disabilities or limited English skills, and those in special education.
AYP is measured by students being considered proficient in math, math participation, reading, reading participation and the district having both passing graduation and attendance rates. If one of the sub groups does not meet proficiency and participation indicators in math and reading, or in graduation and attendance rates, the district does not meet AYP.
“Effective” last year
Oregon’s overall rating was “effective” for the 2010/2011 report card. The district met 20 of 26 indicators and had a performance index of 96.2. The district did meet AYP in reading proficiency, reading participation, mathematics participation, graduation and attendance rates. It did not meet AYP for mathematics proficiency for students with disabilities.
Schools are put into “School Improvement” (SI) status after not meeting AYP for two consecutive years. Schools can be in SI for three years. Schools that go beyond the three year mark may have to restructure, according to the ODE.
Oregon Schools currently in SI include Clay High School, which has been in the plan for four years. Fassett has been in SI for one year and Eisenhower has been in SI for two years.
Coy and Starr Elementary Schools were rated effective and did meet AYP. Jerusalem Elementary School was rated excellent, also meeting AYP. Wynn Elementary, which is now closed, was also rated effective and met AYP for the 2010/2011 school year.
Henry explained to board members that the district has set three goals including increasing math and reading scores by five percent per year through 2014/2015; decreasing disciplinary actions by 10 percent and reducing the gaps between students with disabilities and the other sub groups.
“The trends show that we are effective in reading and math across the board,” Henry said. “Our scores are pretty much the same per year. There is no point where we gain five percent. It is going to take a drastic change to change the trend.”
Although the district has not made AYP in the last three years, Henry said they are very close.
“AYP means that students in all sub groups are also achieving,” Henry said. In math, we had a 77.4 passage rate for all students. For students with disabilities, it was 39.1. In reading, the passage rate for all students was 86.1 and 55.2 for students with disabilities. We are not alone in this. It is not just an Oregon issue.”
In January, 2011, Ohio was awarded a federal Race to the Top Grant. The competitive grant program established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was designed to encourage and reward states for enacting education policies that will improve students’ results, build school and school systems’ capacities and increase school systems’ productivity and effectiveness.
Ohio’s plan calls for the state to, by 2014: increase the high school graduation rate by 2 percentage points to 88 percent; reduce by half the gaps between white and non-white students’ graduation rates; reduce by half performance gaps between white and non-white students on state and national assessments; reduce by half the gaps between Ohio and top-performing states on national reading and math assessments, and double the projected increase in college enrollment for students age 19 and younger.
“In terms of gap closing, we are making a difference,” Henry said adding it would take a full year to put the plans in place for the reconfiguration.
Richard Gabel, former board president, said he thought the reconfiguration was a good idea. He also questioned why it would take a year to put into place.
Superintendent Dr. Mike Zalar, told the board that the exploratory committee convened just to begin gathering data. Zalar said the staff would need the time to make the changes necessary for the system to work.
“No decision has been made that the district is going to do this,” Zalar said. “The staff needs the opportunity to make the changes. This is a major systemic change. We are in a position right now that we need to improve our performance sooner rather than later.”
Diana Gadus questioned what a reconfigured 5/6 and 7/8 building would look like academically.
Tim Holcombe, principal at Fassett Middle School, served on a committee with fifth and sixth grade teachers. Holcombe told the board that sixth grade students are currently on a “high school” type schedule, changing classes seven times per day.
Holcombe said the group would like to see teams of pairs of teachers teaching the fifth grade in what he termed a “true transitional” building.
“One teacher would teach math and science and another teacher would teach social studies and language arts,” Holcombe said. “The two teachers would have the students all day. The students would have an exploratory teacher and two transition classes as well. In sixth grade, the students would have more teachers and more transitions, which would prepare them to go into the 7/8 building.”
Reconfiguration pros and cons
School Board Member PJ Kapfhammer, said the district needed to take some time to explore the pros and cons of a reconfiguration. Kapfhammer added he would want to visit other districts that have reconfigured classes in order to see the positives and negatives of the new program.
“We need to take it slow,” Kapfhammer said. “I do see a whole lot of positives about this. The last thing we want to do is mess this up.”
School Board Member Jeff Ziviski, was not sold on the idea.
“The only thing I see is the elementary would get an excellent rating,” Ziviski said. “All I see is you shifting the fifth graders off, moving their issues onto another building. What will happen systematically for the fifth graders?”
Zalar stated the district would be able to better align the curriculum for the students.
“We can get all of the kids in the district in the same grade level into one building so we would be able to align and focus the curriculum at that grade level,” he said. “It would allow us to focus the curriculum and use our teaching resources more effectively.”
Zalar recommended that a citizen’s advisory committee be put in place in order to look at the pros and cons of the reconfiguration.
“This is going to be a change in the status quo,” Zalar said. “If we want to see the results we are expected to produce, we need to change. We are not structured to achieve the outcome we need at those grade levels. The structures we have in place right now are not producing the results we are expecting.”
Gadus said after the meeting the district will continue to research the plan thoroughly.
“This is still being discussed,” Gadus said. “This is academically driven and may be the best resolution for our district and the best way for our students to achieve academic excellence.”
Zalar said after the meeting the district will continue to explore the reconfiguration option.
“The district continues to explore grade level reconfiguration as part of an overall strategy to improve student achievement,” Zalar said. “The public will be informed and involved in the process going forward through a variety of community engagement strategies and initiatives. Most likely, these conversations will begin later this summer and carry over into the fall of the new school year. The Board will use the input from all stakeholder groups including staff, students, parents and the community to assist in their future decision making regarding this issue.”