Team seeks ways to boost schools

SUWANEE - Members of a cross-functional action team on Thursday presented research about student achievement to the Gwinnett Board of Education and suggested ways the school system can add rigor to middle school to increase success in high school.

Although Gwinnett middle schoolers continue to score above the state average on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the ninth-grade failure rate has increased from 9 percent in 2001 to 13 percent in 2005, said Patty Heitmuller, principal at Louise Radloff Middle School and a member of the action team.

In addition, the number of seventh-graders failing the county's Gateway math test has more than doubled from 2003 to 2005, and Hispanic and black students continue to fall behind white and Asian students in SAT scores and graduation rates, Heitmuller said.

The team found effective practices such as benchmark tests, using algebra as a standard curriculum and providing instructional coaching to support teachers are in place at many middle schools, she said.

"The level of implementation is not consistent across schools, and sometimes even within a school across grade levels or classrooms," Heitmuller told the board.

It is important to increase rigor in middle school, because the purpose of those school years is to prepare students for high school, she said.

The team found six ways the school system could increase rigor at the middle school level.

Emily Keag, a teacher at Crews Middle School, presented the following recommendations:

•Implement quality, common benchmark assessments in the core curriculum areas at all middle schools;

•Provide academic support within the middle school day that will give all students the opportunity to pursue a college preparatory or more advanced program of student at high school;

•Use the school and team schedule to give priority to teacher collaboration for analysis of student achievement data, developing instructional plans to address specific student needs and sharing the use of teaching strategies;

•Increase effective differentiation of instruction based on the range of students' needs to master the county's curriculum;

•Establish teams among grade levels and school levels for teachers to share expectations for students' best practices in instruction and assessment; and

•Emphasize content and informational reading and writing across the curriculum.