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‘ClassScape’ added to Bertie Schools

WINDSOR – Judge Howard Manning has made it clear he isn’t waiting forever to see changes in low-performing school districts across North Carolina.

The Wake County Superior Court Judge recently brought Halifax County Schools to his courtroom, saying the district was committing “academic genocide.”

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger said at the time, the judge could easily have required Bertie County to report to his courtroom. He said the district was moving now to make sure that didn’t happen.

At the most recent meeting of the Bertie County Board of Education, Dr. Zullinger told the board, “We’re going to see what we can do to make changes this school year – not wait until next year.”

With that, Dr. Zullinger, Executive Director for Curriculum Carol Atkins and District Transformation Coach Tony Horton presented the district’s new plan which involves a heavy reliance on the ClassScape.

The program will allow Bertie County Schools to assess students, retrieve data about the testing and allow for teachers to learn exactly where students are struggling.

ClassScape is an online classroom assessment system that facilitates learning by focusing on curricular objectives. ClassScape enables teachers to monitor student performance on North Carolina Standard Course of Study academic indicators. The system also allows North Carolina teachers to build customized tests or use tests prepared by ClassScape.

During the presentation, Atkins showed an assessment of students who were on the border of Level II and Level III in the North Carolina testing model. (Level II is considered non-proficient while Level III is proficient.)

As part of the process, it showed the student’s lack of success on particular objectives set by the state.

The objective that many of the district’s third grade students who were tested came up short on was Third Grade Math Objective 1.05 which reads, “Use are or region models and set models of fractions to explore part-whole relationships. Compare and order fractions (halves, fourths, thirds, sixths, eighths) using models and benchmark numbers (zero, one-half, one) describe comparisons.”

Atkins, who has been a successful teacher and administrator, said that objective, point was all they would receive from the state on end of grade testing and admitted, “That may mean something to a teacher, but not to anyone else.”

Dr. Zullinger interjected, “It doesn’t mean much to the superintendent,” and explained that it was the kind of education language that kept the staff from getting to the root of the problem.

Atkins explained that when teachers saw that, they could actually look at the problems their students struggled with, see their answers and, hopefully, figure out what the problem was for each student.

For information, Atkins showed that most of the students were struggling with fractions and that was the information provided by the math objective.

“I have been a superintendent for 25 years,” Dr. Zullinger said in a follow-up interview. “This is the first time I’ve been able to pinpoint what our kids don’t know. If you look at our testing, it’s obvious we’re having problems with fractions.”

At the board meeting, Dr. Zullinger announced the district’s intention to use ClassScape as a monitoring tool during the 2009-10 academic year. The district will give benchmark tests every four weeks, allowing teachers to know early where students are struggling so they can teach them.

A sample test done by the district this year showed that a majority of students mastered the same objectives and struggled with the same material. For example, in a third grade math test session at Aulander Elementary School, 83 percent gave correct answers for Math Objective 1.01 while only 25 percent mastered objective 1.03 and 1.05, both dealing with fractions.

Dr. Zullinger, Atkins and Horton said they believe arming teachers with that type of information will allow them to better teach the students in their classrooms. Teachers will know exactly where students are struggling and will be able to go back and help them in those areas.

The superintendent also said he intended to give as much information as possible to teachers over the summer to allow them to be prepared for their students’ strengths and weaknesses as they begin the next academic year.

ClassScape will allow teachers to create sample tests to prepare students and will allow the district officials to provide testing as a sample for every school in the district.

Dr. Zullinger also informed the board that he was requesting ClassScape take a look at providing earlier assessments because he believes the district must monitor what is being taught at Kindergarten, first and second grades as well as the first tested area in grade three and moving through the rest of their academic careers.

“I don’t get the sense that other systems are using ClassScape to monitor like we are,” Dr. Zullinger said later. “But we feel like it will not allow teachers to not teach the curriculum, because we will know quickly.”

The idea received a vote of confidence from the Bertie County Board of Education. Chairman Rickey Freeman asked the superintendent to keep the board updated on the program, the test data and the use of ClassScape as a whole.