With an 85.0 on the statewide gauge of school performance known as the CCRPI, the highest score of any school in Bulloch County, after a steep 17.1-point gain, Sallie Zetterower Elementary School must be doing something right.
When several SZES teachers shared their observations about what's right at their school during Thursday evening's Bulloch County Board of Education meeting, two ongoing efforts were mentioned repeatedly.
“Currently at Sallie Z. we have two initiatives,” fourth- and fifth-grade intervention teacher Stacey Collier told the board. “Ask any one of my colleagues and they’ll be telling you that one focus is literacy, and even more specifically guided reading. … Then they’ll tell you our other initiative is The Leader in Me.”
Collier, who has taught for 23 years, all at Sallie Zetterower Elementary, is now the school’s Response to Intervention coordinator. She noted that the school is in its second year of both initiatives.
In the guided reading method, teachers work with small groups of students at or near the same reading level. They are assigned reading materials slightly more advanced than their current level, so that they need some support but will continue learning.
Specifically, teachers at SZES are using Jan Richardson’s “Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.” The school has five more days of faculty training, or “professional development” in this approach scheduled this year after previous sessions last year, Collier noted.
She had already alluded to the Leader in Me program when she praised the school’s adult leadership and mentioned “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by the late Stephen Covey.
The Leader in Me, based on those “seven habits,” is a social- and emotional-learning curriculum that includes opportunities for children and teens to demonstrate leadership skills. All nine of the Bulloch County system’s elementary schools are now using it.
“Through our reading focus we have seen students grow academically, not only in the subject of reading but also in the areas of science and social studies,” SZES Principal Marlin Baker said in an email reply to the newspaper. “In addition, as a Leader in Me school, we have seen students demonstrate habits which build character and lead to success.”
But he said he wanted to emphasize another factor.
"The improvement that Sallie Z. has experienced is primarily due to the dedicated work of our outstanding teachers,” he wrote. “They are truly fantastic.”
Although Baker had briefly mentioned the school’s recent College and Career Ready Performance Index achievement before the teachers spoke, their presentation Thursday wasn’t really about the CCRPI results. Throughout the year, various schools get to brag to the board during a "school highlights" portion of meetings, and it was Sallie Zetterower’s turn.
But the school system's leading analyst of test results and other data presented a detailed overview of the CCRPI data from 2018-19 later in the meeting.
“The CCRPI is NOT the final word on a school’s performance or quality,” Director of Data Support Dr. Noralee Edwards emphasized with the third of her 30 or so slides.
As the second slide had stated, the index is Georgia’s statewide school accountability system to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
With another one of her slides, Edwards congratulated three schools specifically.
Sallie Zetterower Elementary was Bulloch County's highest performing and most-improved elementary school, with its composite score having risen from 67.9 in 2018 to 85.0 in 2019 on the 100-point scale.
Portal Middle School, in other words grades 6-8 of Portal Middle High, was both the highest-performing and most improved middle school, after its CCRPI score rose 15.2 points, from 66.3 to 81.5.
Southeast Bulloch High School was Bulloch school system's top-performing high school, with 79.0, but this was after its score slipped 5.2 points, from 84.2 the previous year. Portal High, in other words grades 9-12 at Portal Middle High School, was the most improved high school with a gain of 7.3 points, to 76.0, while Statesboro High gained half a point, to 71.2.
In fact, the Bulloch County Schools' overall score, for the 15 schools as a whole, slipped 1.1 points from 74.8 on the CCRPI in 2018 to 73.7 in 2019. Meanwhile, the average performance of schools throughout Georgia slipped 0.7 point, from a score of 76.6 to a 2019 statewide score of 75.9.
The index gauges all schools’ performance in four areas: academic content mastery, progress, closing achievement gaps and readiness. A fifth element, graduation rates, makes up 15% of high school scores.
The first three areas, making up 80% of elementary and middle schools’ scores and 70% of high schools’ scores, are based on annual Georgia Milestones testing.
But “readiness” numbers, which account for 20% of elementary and middle and 15% of high school scores, are based on other things, such as Lexile reading levels, attendance and how many students complete courses beyond the core. For high schools there are also measures of college and career readiness, including results from some other tests.
Besides making progress for students in general, schools are expected to reduce “achievement gaps” for subgroups, including students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, students learning English and different races.
Twelve of the 15 schools showed improvement in students’ mastery of academic content. Indeed, the school system showed improved content mastery at the elementary, middle and high school levels, but declining performance in the “closing gaps” and progress elements at the middle and high school levels, Edwards noted.
She observed that with these elements, a school that far exceeds its improvement targets can find sustaining that success difficult the next year.
Ups and downs
Only four schools in the Bulloch County system improved their CCRPI results in 2017-18 and again in 2018-19. All were elementary schools: Langston Chapel Elementary, Mill Creek, Nevils and Stilson.
SZES, Portal Middle High and Statesboro High all showed gains in 2018-19 after declines the previous year. Seven other schools in the system posted declines this year after gains the previous year.
Only one school, Mattie Lively Elementary, had declines two consecutive years, and this year had the county’s lowest score, 57.8. So it, and Langston Chapel Elementary and Langston Chapel Middle, where scores remain in the 60s, present improvement opportunities, Edwards reported.
She identified Portal Elementary School’s decrease from a 78.5 score to a 62.3 and Statesboro High’s previously reported drop in its graduation rate as other opportunities. Edwards noted “data digs” the school system has held with principals and other school leaders to look for the causes and consider solutions.
The Statesboro Herald reported Oct. 31 that state-chartered Statesboro STEAM Academy had “Bulloch County’s highest overall score” on the CCRPI. With the charter school counted as a system unto itself, this was based on Statesboro STEAM’s overall score of 82.0, its high school score of 84.7 and its middle school score of 79.2, compared to the county school system’s overall 73.7 and its composite scores of 74.3 for high schools and 70.6 for middle schools. STEAM has no elementary grades.
But Sallie Zetterower Elementary’s 85.0, reported in a separate story that day, was the county’s highest CCRPI score at any grade level.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.