August 5, 2008

Orangeburg, S.C., School Districts Examine Options on Meeting ‘No Child’

By Lee Tant, The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.

Aug. 5--Orangeburg Consolidated School Districts 4 and 5 are using various means and methods to enact their respective corrective action plans after failing to met federal No Child Left Behind standards for four consecutive years.

Options for districts in corrective action include: developing a new curriculum, replacing personnel, deferring programs funds or reducing administrative funds.

Both districts choose the first option and purchased Anderson School District 5's curriculum as a template.

"We're working on the benchmarks and standards to be sure that we're covering all we need to do," said Martha Garrick, executive director for elementary schools and federal programs at OCSD 4.

OCSD 4 is in the process of hiring a district-wide curriculum coordinator for all grades.

OCSD 5 spokesman Greg Carson said his district is in the process of merging the Anderson 5 curriculum with its own. A curriculum is a mechanism to tie together all content courses and ensure instruction is sync throughout a school or district.

"There was no reason to reinvent the wheel," said Carson, noting the preparation of a new curriculum can take years.

Statewide, 33 districts use the Anderson 5 curriculum, which is endorsed by the State Department of Education.

"We've been very satisfied with it," said Calhoun County School District Associate Superintendent of Curriculum Lyn Dukes of the Anderson 5 curriculum, which the district purchased in 2006.

The Anderson 5 curriculum provides a platform for teachers to incorporate subjects together, she said. For example, students could be assigned to read a book for social studies and then be asked to give the book's main idea or write an essay on it to strengthen their reading comprehension skills.

Dukes notes that the Anderson 5 curriculum provides teacher's additional resources and allows them to link federal and state standards to textbooks.

Both Orangeburg districts are also going to rely heavily on benchmark testing to assess students' academic strengths and weaknesses to prepare for accountability testing. For the first time, OCSD 5 is going to use the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test to that end. Students in OCSD 5 will be given the MAP test three times per year to provide teachers with updated progress on their students.

"We're paying and putting more attention to those groups that are not meeting standards," said Carson.

Using testing data, the districts will be able to track the progress of students, classes and entire schools to target areas of concern.

"We're making sure we're on top of our data," says Carson. In accomplishing that, the district has increased the number of people who track testing data.

Garrick said data taken from MAP testing will be used to group students together according to their academic needs. For example, a group of students that are struggling with math could be grouped together by a teacher.

Over at OCSD 5, teachers will receive professional development on how to differentiate their teaching methods. This will give teachers several ways to instruct students in a given subject, allowing them to discover which method works best.

OCSD 5's administration and board of trustees has also placed great emphasis on improving teacher attendance in the district.

Additionally, both districts are also conducting programs to make the transition from middle to high school easier for students.

This month, OCSD 4 teachers are set to have a three-day seminar that will focus on reading and writing.

Those are areas which Garrick identifies as "not where they should be" in terms of testing scores.

The district found that the amount of time spent teaching English/language arts varied from school to school. To correct that, this year OCSD 4 is establishing more coordination among the schools to ensure every child is given adequate instruction for those subjects.

The use of instructional teacher coaches will continue to be an integral part of both district's strategic plans. The districts have instructional coaches for each of the four key subjects of reading, math, science and social studies. Those individuals mentor teachers in those areas by providing them with advice and strategies, in addition to helping new teachers learn the ropes of the profession.

Carson said the wisdom and strategies that instructional coaches bring to the table are critical to the district.

"The focus is on improving instruction and looking at what takes place in the classroom," said Garrick.

Garrick also noted that principals will also make regular walkthroughs in each class to evaluate teacher performance and ensure they have all the necessary tools to be successful.

While the focus in OCSD 4 this year is on improving reading and writing scores, Garrick said that district is expanding staff development for its science and math teachers.

"We're going to do everything we can to help them," she said.


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