The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently released report cards for every school in the state, reporting test scores from the 2018-19 school year. But long before the report cards were released, the team at Irrigon Elementary was already working hard to improve those scores.
In 2018, Irrigon Elementary was identified as a Comprehensive School, named by ODE as a school that needed to improve in one or more areas on the school report card.
“We really looked at what students need to know, what kind of extra attention and resources we could use and how to collaborate to find solutions,” said Principal Erin Stocker. What Irrigon Elementary did was find schools that were like them in demographics who were being successful and see if they could learn from them. They didn’t have to look too far – they found Rocky Heights Elementary in Hermiston, a school that had consistently scored above the state average on the SBAC state test.
Stocker contacted Rocky Heights administration, coordinated a site visit for staff and observed math and English Language Arts (ELA) strategies in action at Rocky Heights. Then they got to work, using teacher-driven and teacher-led professional development.
Starting in January 2019, Irrigon Elementary teachers started intense Professional Development sessions on Wednesday nights with two Rocky Heights teachers as facilitators. The goal was to listen, learn and implement. They pored over test blueprints, test specs, claims and targets, essentially what areas students needed to be familiar with to be successful on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. They concentrated less on standards and more on targets. Then they took it to their classrooms.
Students were ready when spring testing came – and the work paid off. ELA scores increased 15 percent from the 17-18 year to the 18-19 year. Math scores increased 18 percent. What is more exciting for Stocker and Vice Principal Kaira Rysdam, however, are the rates of growth. Both ELA and Math moved from Level 1 to a Level 5. Over two years, ELA and Math scores increased by 25 percent and 19 percent respectively. The level of individual student progress on the test went from low to high, demonstrating, Stocker said, that students were willing and capable of perseverance to take the test and do well.
When preliminary test scores were released, what did they do to celebrate? Stocker and Rysdam had joked to their staff that if the teachers met their goals, they would get them a taco truck. In August, they did just that. Then again when the official report card was released in October, they had a “Pancakes and Pats on the Back” staff breakfast.
The biggest takeaway from all this, though, Stocker and Rysdam agree, is that they are absolutely humbled by how hard the teachers wanted their efforts to be successful. “This is hard work, this is time away from families. Our teachers did this because they knew their students could be successful,” Stocker said.
Now what? The Wednesday evening sessions are continuing, with new targets, new goals and more strategies. Stocker and Rysdam said they know there is more work to be done and there are more students ready to be successful.