There wasn't a lot of good news in the summary of student performance on standardized testing that District Assessment Coordinator Anthony Beeler presented to the Lincoln County School Board last week, but among the high points were two preschool classes that are clearly doing something right. Waynesburg Elementary's Mae Farmer and Fort Logan's Christalynn Hubble's classes were clearly high end outliers on the Early Childhood 2010- 2011 Outcomes Report that records the test scores for four-year-olds in the county that participated in either the preschool or Head Start programs.
Areas tested included both math and literacy knowledge, such as the ability of children to name shapes, count to ten or twenty, identifying ten or more letters and sounds, the ability to print their first name, copying numbers and reading four to eight words.
Farmer had 12 four-year-olds in her class last year. By the end of the school year, their literacy scores as a whole were very high. All of the students could name ten or more letters, 93 percent could identify letter sounds and could read four to eight words.
Farmer has been a preschool teacher since 2003, but started as an assistant in 1994. While all schools in Lincoln County follow identical curriculums, Farmer said that last year’s class was eager to learn. “They paid really good attention. They were an eager bunch and they soaked it all in,” Farmer said.
Not having an exact answer why the scores were so high last year, Farmer made the point that her students' success was a group effort, not only from the children and herself, but by her assistant, Mary Coomer. “I have a really great assistant,” Farmer said. “It’s not just me. She’s as much a part of this as I am.”
Family Liaison and education team member, Charlotte Brown can shed some light as to why the literacy test scores at Waynesburg tend to be higher than elsewhere in the county. All the children in the county have the opportunity to work with a program called Breakthrough to Literacy on computers in the classrooms, however, Waynesburg takes their four-year-olds out of the classroom to meet with Bonnie Farris. Farris assists the children with the literacy program. “Waynesburg is the only school that does this,” Brown said.
The practice of removing children from and placing them with another teacher is something that will most likely be implemented throughout the county. “Literacy gains at Waynesburg are very good,” Brown said. “Something good is going on there and we want to spread the wealth to the rest of the county.”
The other classroom leader with impressive test results, Hubble, is in her twenty-first year with the Lincoln County school system; she has served ten years as an assistant and eleven as a teacher, mostly at McKinney Elementary. She is in her fourth year as a preschool teacher at Fort Logan.
Like Farmer, Hubble isn’t exactly sure why her scores are high, but she does offer one explanation: individualization. Hubble’s class is broken up into groups that focus on the specific needs of the children, such as learning the alphabet or reading. Another technique she employs is working with the children individually. “Individualization allows for extra attention and works really well with reading,” Hubble said. On three of the eight areas tested, students scored 100 percent on three areas, while in the remaining five areas students scored 90 percent.
Hubble, too, points out that the success of last year’s children was not a solo effort. “Parent support has been good. They were really good about getting on board with us,” Hubble said. She would send assignments home and parents would help their children with it. Overall, the cooperation between parents and teacher helped the children succeed in class.
One other important aspect that could have explained the high test scores is second year participants. Children can participate in these programs at age three and again when they are four. Out of the 12 students in Hubble’s class, seven were in their second year in the program (six were not). “If they have been in the program before, it does help,” Hubble said. The main reason for this, is that the child is already more comfortable with the classroom setting. Brown agrees with Hubble saying that “you can have a stronger score if children return.”
Children are tested in the fall entering the school year and again in the spring. By comparing the two test scores, it is possible to calculate the gain that was made between the beginning and the end of the year. Hubble’s class had relatively strong scores coming into the year and the students had a 21 percent gain. However, Farmer’s class scores were low in the fall, but by the spring, her class had achieved a 71 percent gain.
The success enjoyed by Farmer and Hubble is not because they are assigned students with high potential, which could have explained the high scores, but that simply ins't the case. “We do not ability group the children,” Director of the Early Childhood Program, Jane Berry said. Both Hubble and Farmer concurred with this statement. “There is no rhyme or reason,” Berry said.
The Head Start and preschool programs are blended, meaning there that the students are taught together. Classrooms include both three and four-year-olds. “We are unique in that. A lot of counties are separate,” Brown said. Brown opined that the children get better opportunities with a blended program. “It’s the best of two worlds.”
Preschool is a state funded program, while Head Start is federally funded. In total there are 185 children in Head Start and 71 in preschool. Tests are done in an effort to determine the benefits of early education. Children that participated in preschool or Head Start will be tested again in fourth grade to try and determine the impact that these programs had on their education. More importantly, Brown said that it’s important for our children to be ready for kindergarten and beyond.