School Changes underway 2014.12.03

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci Board of Education members received a review of test scores at their regular November meeting and learned about changes underway in the classroom.

This is why we need to do things differently, said Morenci Elementary School principal Gail Frey, as she showed results from three assessments.

Typically, she said, 15 to 20 percent of a class is in need of extra help, including the special education students, but a much larger number of students is behind where they should be.

"If we keep teaching in the same way," she said, "we're going to keep getting the same results."

Frey said the school must move away from a multiple-choice format such as what is used with the Accelerated Reader program and instead change to a discussion model that leads to deeper engagement by the students and problem-solving skills.

After reading a story, for example, students think about different perspectives and discuss what might have happened. Why did someone feel a certain way? What would have happened if events had changed? What are other possibilities for the story's outcome?

Teachers need to model the best practices, Frey said, and they will receive help through professional development sessions. Adjustments to the curriculum are needed. Some teachers are still a little leery of the suggested changes, she said, because they want their students to succeed and aren't sure of the new methods. Frey encourages them to explore new methods, pointing out that what is currently done isn't bringing success.

Frey and reading specialist Angela Pickett are working in classrooms and changes are also underway with volunteers. HOSTS reading volunteers used to work with students in a special room, but that drew the students away from their teacher. Now, aides are working in classrooms to allow teachers more time to work with students in need of assistance. Community volunteers are now reading to kindergarten students. Many students aren't read to at home, Frey said, and volunteers' efforts are helping to increase vocabulary.

Pickett is working with the lowest 30 percent of first and second grade students, along with a few in the third and fourth grades.

The immediate goal of the changes is to improve test scores, Frey said, but the school needs to create problem-solvers for successful careers.

A new test administered to students is taken entirely online. This is excellent preparation for state tests, said superintendent Mike McAran, because they will be taken via computers starting in the second semester.