Technology expected to boost TCMS test scores

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Teachers, students working hard to get out of Tier 1 status

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

Trial runs of programs to be implemented next year at Trimble County Middle School show promise for helping the school climb out of Tier 1 status under the federal No Child Left Behind program, according to Principal Mike Genton.

Tier 1 status means the school fell short of educational goals established by NCLB. In 2008-09, CATS scores showed TCMS failed to reach the goal of 66 percent of students earning proficiency in reading; it was the second consecutive year the school missed that particular goal.

To remediate the situation, the school received $113,000 in federal funds this year to establish programs designed to improve reading skills. The school has this year and next to reach the NCLB proficiency goals and be removed from Tier I status.

The programs, selected by the school’s Site Based Decision Making Council, mostly revolve around technology and the Internet, and both the students and the teachers are very excited about them, Genton said in an interview at the school last week.

Seventh- and eighth-grade teachers next year will be using iPods for language arts classes, Genton said. The devices are programmed with applications that will allow teachers to download a variety of tools – from audio/video podcasts to reading materials – for students to use. The iPods will be used strictly in the classroom.

Seventh-grade teacher Steve Gamble demonstrated an application that puts the works of American author Edgar Allen Poe, along with information about the writer, at a student’s fingertips.

“The kids are so excited,” Genton said. “They will read a book on an iPod that they won’t read in hardcover.”

That is why technology is the future of education, Genton said, and the school is striving to match new ways of teaching with how today’s techno-savvy students learn. “They process information faster than we did, because they are bombarded with it all the time,” he said.

The school also is implementing programs to improve math scores. TCMS met NCLB goals in that subject, but the high school missed it’s goal by more than 20 percent.

So, next year, middle school students will be using the Carnegie Learning math program, which can be completed in modules at the students’ own pace.

Genton said two groups were selected to pilot the program at TCMS – one group was challenged in mathematics, while the other group was already proficient in the subject and considered good at math.

Genton said the first group actually is doing so well, it is outperforming the group that already had a good grasp on math.

“We are seeing a lot of great results,” Genton said. “The kids are excited about it and are enjoying it, and the teachers are excited about it.”

The school also purchased a “student response system” to be used with Smartboard technology in all the classrooms, Genton said. The system, which uses “clickers” similar to a TV remote control, allows students to interact during a lesson.

Using a computer, teachers can prepare lessons in PowerPoint presentations that are projected onto the Smartboards, which are similar to the touch-screen technology used on the newer “smart” cell phones.  

Teachers also can project other materials onto the board, such as Internet sites or other materials.

Using the clickers, students can answer questions programmed into the lessons, and the Smartboard immediately shows the teacher how many gave the correct answers.

The instant feedback shows the teacher which concepts students are grasping and which ones may require additional review, Genton said. He admits that the system also allows students to answer anonymously, which some students find preferable to being called on by the teacher to answer a question aloud.

“The whole point is to allow teachers to know what kids are getting or not getting before the text even takes place,” he said.

Though falling into Tier status under NCLB guidelines is something schools try to avoid, Genton admits “it’s kind of been a blessing in disguise, really.”

For example, he said, the Carnegie program, alone, carries a $60,000 price tag.

“We could have never purchased these things had we not been in Tier status,” he said. “Our resources are limited, and the district can’t afford $60,000 for a math program.”

With the new technology, TCMS will be “ahead of the curve” compared to other school districts in the state.

“Now the goal is to get out of Tier status,” he said. “Our teachers have worked hard this year; our kids have worked hard this year. I hope our test scores will reflect that.”

CATS testing, now known as the Kentucky Core Content Tests since legislative changes last year, was completed at the middle school earlier this month.

In the meantime, Genton said the school continues to work with students in the areas of discipline and preparing them for life beyond middle school.

“Test scores are not the end-all, be-all,” he said. “Having a safe, caring school is No. 1. Our school functions as a part of the community, so we’re definitely on the right track.”