LINCOLN — When the town's six public schools opened Tuesday morning, they did so with teachers and administrators ready to tackle several initiatives the Lincoln School Administration team either adopted new this year or will continue to address.
In fact, some initiatives also have been adopted by the Cumberland and Woonsocket public school districts. Those three municipalities have formed a consortium to institute what's known as the Charles A. Dana Center Project, one based at the University of Texas at Austin.
By utilizing that project, Lincoln Superintendent of Schools Georgia Fortunato believes improving students' test scores is a “given.”
The project's purpose is to increase student achievement in mathematics in all three districts by aligning curriculum, instruction and assessment to Rhode Island state standards.
“Studies show that American students are behind those who study internationally in mathematics and the sciences,” Fortunato noted early Wednesday afternoon. “This year, we're working closely with the Cumberland and Woonsocket districts in Cumberland to focus on instructional strategies (for all students) K-12.
“We're making sure teachers have all the tools they need to be effective educators, especially in the area of mathematics,” she added. “We've been addressing the math objectives for three years now, but — this year — we're expanding the Dana Center strategies into the sciences.
“We feel this is extremely important; students aren't making strides the way others are nationally and internationally in those two subjects. We here in Lincoln, we've noticed the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) scores are a weakness, as they are in mathematics. We're also focusing on improving writing skills.”
The objectives of the project are to implement the guaranteed and viable curriculum every day, to every student, in every classroom; provide regular opportunities for teachers and leaders to collaboratively study and implement the curriculum; and institute routines and structures for monitoring implementation of the curriculum, and providing feedback.
Melinda Smith, Lincoln's Director of Curriculum, indicated district scores had flat-lined in recent years, “and we weren't making noticeable gains. Two years ago, Lincoln Middle School was on watch status, and Central Elementary is on watch status as we speak.
“If you look at the seventh grade, 56 percent of students were proficient in mathematics in 2009,” she continued. “Last year, we jumped 15 points to 71 percent in 2010 … When we saw this was an area of concern, we decided to climb on board with the Dana Center Project, and R.I.D.E. (the Rhode Island Department of Education) gave us permission to create the consortium.”
Smith explained that Central Elementary students' mathematics scores had declined in grades 3-5, and that's when administrators noticed the curriculum wasn't as aligned as it should have been.
“Teachers were re-teaching some skills and missing others,” she said. “That's what created the gaps. Central's students had dropped nine percent in Grade 3, six percent in Grade 4 and 18 percent in Grade 5. Our hope is, with all of this focus on mathematics, we'll turn around those scores.”
In the subject of writing, Lincoln has expanded the “TEEC” format of writing constructed responses (or paragraphs) from only grades 6-8. It now will include those in K-5 and the high school. “TEEC” is an acronym for “Topic Sentence,” “Evidence,” “Explanation” and “Closing.”
To describe, under “Topic Sentence,” students are asked to use words from the prompt/question in that sentence, to be clear and thorough while addressing the prompt/question being asked and for students to realize another sentence may be needed following the topic sentence to provide more information about the subject/topic.
Under “Evidence,” they're asked to use facts, textual evidence, date tables, graphs, personal experience, etc. to support their claims; and to use transitions such as “For example,” “For instance” or “Specifically” for “smoother” writing.
As for “Explanation,” students should provide what their evidence means in their own words; explain how the evidence addresses the prompt, topic sentence, main idea and/or opinion; and never let examples stand alone.
“Closing” is simple – summarize the thoughts expressed with a sentence that wraps up ideas composed in the paragraph.
At the high school level (grades 9-12), the “TEEC” format has been renamed “TEXT” — for “Topic Sentence,” “Evidence,” Explanation” and “Transition/Closure.”
Actually, Theresa DeRiso, a former Lincoln High English Department head and current middle school curriculum team leader, created “TEEC” a few years ago.
“Because of that work in the middle school, those students' scores jumped 13 percent in writing proficiency, and it's due to the format,” Fortunato revealed. “It helps students organize their thoughts more clearly when asked to respond to a prompt, meaning a question. It's a device that aids in student growth as they write more paragraphs.
“As you go through middle and high school, that level of ability to write grows; you have to be able to write on demand in and after high school, and this format is easy to understand,” she added. “'TEEC” helps young students to have fun when they learn. These are four letters that will guide them.”
In August, the superintendent asked DeRiso to teach selected elementary school instructors about the format, and those teachers worked on it with colleagues during the “Professional Development Day” on Aug. 25.
Fortunato claimed writing scores had dropped “across the board” during the 2008-09 academic year, and — this past year — the middle school showed the only significant improvement.
“That's because 'TEEC” was being taught there,” she smiled. “What happens with any new initiative, it has to be gradual. When you change things up, they must be done slowly, with gradual supports in place. With the Dana Center Project in its third year, people are feeling more comfortable with it.
“When you have children not reaching proficiency, you need to respond accordingly, and give teachers tools they need to teach a subject in a more proficient fashion,” she continued. “We also needed teachers to articulate their concerns, and we were able to respond with a time piece.
“We gave them six hours a month to collaborate on their planning time; that was imbedded in their jobs.”
Rhode Island model
Fortunato also noted the implementation of the “Rhode Island model” for teacher evaluations.
“R.I.D.E. (officials) rolled it out just this year, and it ensures educator effectiveness,” she said. “The piece that's different is a 'student growth' component, which is quite extensive. As an educator, you need to be ready to reach all students and build relationships with them.”
When asked about those children who may not want to be educated — for whatever reason — she explained, “Respect is critical in what we do. Teachers need to be respected, and so do students. You know, education is really changing, and teachers need to be supportive of these initiatives. These are expectations they need to live up to.
“With these initiatives, we're giving them all the tools they need … to meet the students' needs,” she added. “Like I said, education has changed a lot over the last five years, even the last two. There are a lot of fiscal constraints now, and you have to be great at what you do with less funding. That's much more difficult.
“We as a school district have made significant gains over the last several years, and we're going to continue to strive to be the best.”
One last initiative is a new enrichment program entitled “Before the Bell,” and it will be open to all students in grades 4-5 beginning Monday, Oct. 3. It's designed to provide children with high-quality, extended learning and enrichment prior to the typical elementary school day.
Fortunato maintained the activities offered – between 8-8:45 a.m. – will expand learning beyond the core curriculum. Among them: Band, Chorus, “Math Olympiad,” “Discovery Science,” NASA Explorer, art and the Chinese language.
“The courses selected will bring new concepts to light in a fun and interactive way that will enhance learning in those areas,” she stated. “We're going to do some really creative things, and we think the students will be excited about them.
“This is something any student can sign up for if he or she wishes,” she added. “We had enrichment programs before, but they were delivered during the school day with only a select few children participating. It didn't give us the enrichment opportunities we were trying to put forth.
“Now we're opening up those opportunities to all of those grades 4-5 students, and they won't miss valuable instruction time.”
She also encourages all parents/guardians and residents to peruse more information at www.lincolnps.org .