Cy-Fair ISD mixes fun, learning in TAKS prep
Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District's Danish Elementary School has achieved an Exemplary" rating for two out of the five years it has been open to students.
The rating is primarily based on student passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests.
We are successful because we look at each child and assess them individually," said Nancy Bromley, Danish Elementary's instructional specialist for language arts and social studies. We have many new students at the beginning of each year. We make sure we know what they don't know."
The TAKS testing season is one often that triggers sweaty palms, nervous stomachs and bleary eyes in students and teachers, not to mention parents and siblings.
However, TAKS testing does not have to be that way, say Cy-Fair ISD officials. Across the district, and at each of the district's 77 campuses, teachers and administrators work together to implement TAKS improvement programs that incorporate fun activities and capture students' interest while focusing on key test concepts.
Last year, the district achieved a Recognized" rating for the second year running. Sixty-three out of 74 campuses were declared Recognized or Exemplary in 2009 [the district opened three new campuses in 2009-2010, bringing the total number of campuses to 77], with the remaining rate Academically Acceptable."
Overall, 24 campuses improved in the ratings system: 11 from Academically Acceptable to Recognized, one (Gleason Elementary School) from Academically Acceptable to Exemplary, and 12 from Recognized to Exemplary.
Danish has held steady at Exemplary" since the 2008-09 school year.
Programs at Danish focus on all TAKS testing subjects, but reading is a big focus because of the school's large bilingual population, Bromley said. The school has a primarily Hispanic student population, and 67 percent of all students are economically disadvantaged.
We really work to pinpoint what kids need and then take it from there," she said. We develop relationships with them, and we have a lot fun."
At Danish, Bromley said, there are several tutoring clubs" in math, science and reading that run each morning and on Saturdays. Every year, the tutoring program has a theme. This year it is sports."
The school has also applied for several grants, which provide additional funding for TAKS-related programs.
We found that one of the keys to helping students learn is to have them write their own goals," Bromley said. When they achieve the goal, they get to something extra, like take off their shoes during reading or read under the table. Anything different interests them."
While many students across the state struggle with the TAKS science test, Danish fifth-grade students perform well in that area.
We are really strong in science," Bromley said. We do a lot of hands-on work and experiments. Our Spotlight' teacher, Oksana Shanya Gensior, also does great work with our students."
Linda Macias, Cy-Fair ISD's assistant superintendent of elementary instruction, said the district relies on data to guide instruction and intervention programs.
While there is flexibility in campus TAKS-related programs, the district has implemented several programs in elementary schools that have resulted in high test scores improvement rates, Macias said.
For example, the Read 180" program has resulted in significant gains, she said.
We are seeing that kids are soaring," Macias said.
Read 180, which helps increase reading proficiency and reading skills, has three parts. The small group with the teacher rotation allows instructors to focus on an individual student's problem areas; the technology segment gathers data on students' needs as they complete tasks on a computer; and the independent reading center allows students to listen to a CD while reading along in a book.
Macias said the district also has Saturday School," which incorporates fun learning activities; and Super Camps" in math, science and reading at the Berry Center. The district's top teachers are selected to teach at the camps, which typically are one day long and accommodate 800 students.
Teachers review the content, and also use games, technology and activities to teach the students," Macias said. Students get the practice they need, but also feel energized."
Macias said the TAKS science test does pose challenges for some students because it is only given in fifth grade, but incorporates concepts taught in the second through fourth grades.
Programs aimed at improving skills for the science test include a review of material across the board, she said.
Mary Jadloski, director of secondary curriculum and instruction, said a key factor in preparing students for TAKS tests in the spring is to work throughout the year.
We don't wait until late in the season and do a two-week blitz," Jadloski said. We look at students, identify those that have needs and build programs in a proactive manner to support and intervene at the beginning at school year."
For example, she said, the district has created a student success initiative for eighth-grade students who are struggling with math.
We have a program that is an algebra lab an extra class during the day that has a smaller teacher to student ratio," Jadloski said. They work on the background knowledge needed to advance to the next skill, and identify gaps."
Sometimes they work on an activity that helps them grasp a concept. They can go deeper into that during a lab. We also have reading program that does the same."
Jadloski said that every six weeks the schools conduct secondary formative assessments in intermediate and high schools.
They provide benchmarks as to where students are in grasping concepts," she said. Teachers can get to work immediately on areas where they are experiencing trouble."
Jadloski said students are required to do so much testing that teachers and administrators do not want to see them become overwhelmed by additional testing, so these smaller snippets of tests" are great for collecting data that is needed to created individualized programs.
We have different interventions that can be tailored to different student needs," she said
Jadloski said the math and sciences pose the greatest challenges for secondary students. Targeted course choices, Saturday schools, and Saturday blitzes help develop and hone skills in those subject areas.
The largest significant issue with helping kids catch up is time," Jadloski said. We give them additional instructional time, but some students need a little more in order to ingest the material."
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