News Obits School/Sports Community Opinion

— Dawn Stewart, curriculum specialist for the Decatur School District, presented the school’s annual report to the public at Monday’s town hall meeting.

Stewart reported the district scored above state average in four areas on last years Benchmark tests and end-of-course exams, including eighth grade literacy, eighth grade mathematics, sixth grade mathematics, and high school endof-course geometry.

Benchmark tests are given to students in the third through eighth grade and end-of-course exams are given to high school students. The district is still below state averages in 14 areas.

Superintendent LeRoy Ortman said the number of scores above the state average shows general improvement over the past several years. He said it is his goal for Decatur students to score at least at the state average. It may be more difficult for Decatur students to reach the regional average because they would be competing with 16 northwest Arkansas districts, including larger schools like Bentonville and Fayetteville.

“We have a different clientele,” Ortman said.

Stewart compared Benchmark test and end-of-course exams scores for the past three years.

The scores show steady climbs since 2007, she said.

Stewart also presented ACT test data for the past five years. In 2009 the average ACT score for Decatur students was 19.2, while the average score statewide was 20.6.

Starting this year, high school juniors will have a chance to take a voluntary introductory ACT test, which will be paid for by the students, Stewart said.

“Participation is incredibly beneficial,” she said.

Steward gave a detailed account of how the district’s federal andstate funds are used. The district received $236,118 in federal funds to be used in six categories. The largest category, Title I, was $132,454 for the education of economically disadvantaged students. It can be used for after-school programs, educational technology, professional development, instructional paraprofessionals - also known as teachers aids - and instructional materials and supplies.

Other federal funds include Title II-A for teacher and principal training, Title II-D for enhancing education through technology, Title IVA for safe and drug free communities, Title III for language instruction for limited English proficient students, and Title VI for the Rural Education Achievement Program.

“As you can see, all these things are instructionally driven to increase student achievement,” Stewart said.

The district received $610,646 in state categorical funds this year.

The largest state funding source comes from the National School Lunch Act and amounts to $473,384. It can be used to pay for the salary of literacy specialists, class-size reduction teachers, curriculum, instructional materials and supplies, educational technology, school nurses and school counselors.

The district can only use the state funds after they have spent a minimum amount of local money on the programs, Stewart said.

Decatur Schools received $459,041 in federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The funds were divided into three categories; Title I, Title VI and State Fiscal Stabilization Funds.

Northside Elementary School Principal Leslie Sharp summarized the elementary school’s Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.

The plan is more than 50 pages long, more than half of which is devoted to literacy. Teachers raised students’ literacy scores over 23 percent last year, Sharp reported.

“We bring intensive reading intervention to our students daily,” she said.

Many students come to prekindergarten two to three years behind because they don’t know how to speak English. It takes three to four years for those students to catch up to their peers, Sharp said.

Students are assessed on a weekly basis, and all students that are working below grade level participate in intensive reading intervention instruction each day.

Math and science instruction are also emphasized. In math, elementary students are taught with the Cognitive Guided Instruction Method, Sharp reported, which prepares them for the Benchmark Exam, she said.

Middle and high school principal Tommy Baker presented the Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan for the sixth through the eighth grades.

The plan focuses on addressing areas of deficiency on the state assessment tests and contributing to overall student achievement.

Assessments drive instruction by determining the area of need, Baker said. As an example, if teachers notice that all their students missed question number three, then they need to review that subject, he explained.

The plan includes upgrading technology, new software and various assessment programs.

The school has 20 students using the distance learning lab to take four advanced placement and foreign language classes. Students can also take four college concurrent classes through the lab, Baker reported.

Students, parents and teachers can also take advantage of the Teacher Access Center / Home Access Center grading system. The system allows teachers to post grades online on a weekly basis to better communicate with parents.

News, Pages 12 on 10/21/2009

Print Headline: Schools report on progress

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