Calhoun County Schools receive state grant for assessment program
by Laura Johnson
Oct 29, 2012 | 3652 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Calhoun County Schools are receiving a $140,000 grant from the state to help pay for a program that is aimed at keeping students from falling through the instructional cracks.

The schools' “formative assessment” plan began last year and uses periodic testing and test score analysis to gauge whether students are absorbing core concepts and to develop lesson plans throughout the year. Provided by the Alabama Department of Education, the $140,000 will be used to send “coaches” to individual schools to better implement the plan, said Karen Winn, a deputy superintendent for the Calhoun County Schools system.

“We have a plan in place, but we wanted to take it to the next level,” Winn said.

The phrase “formative assessment” may not register with some parents, but Winn said the meaning behind the phrase could be essential for their children’s success in life after public school. The assessments are periodic tests given not for grades, but to determine if students are grasping key concepts needed to succeed, first in school and later in life.

Winn said it folds into state schools Superintendent Tommy Bice’s push to shift the emphasis from teaching students to pass the High School Graduation Exam to teaching students to be ready for college or a career.

Working with a Mobile-based education company, STI Education Data Management Solutions, the school system began conducting the program last spring. Local administrators sent STI coaches to individual schools to help educators analyze data and craft an instructional plan, which includes further professional development that could come through STI, to ensure students are learning key concepts on time, Winn said.

The school system was paying for STI coaches with local funding, but because of the grant, the system can use state dollars for the program.

Calhoun County Schools will also be able to provide schools with more time with STI coaches throughout the year. Instead of paying coaches to spend 42 days in classrooms, the system will be able to pay STI coaches to spend 102 days.

It’s better, Winn said, to have professional development opportunities — like these coaches in the classroom — at individual schools

Before the funding came through, local educators were planning on doing more training for the plan at a central location. The administrators would have had some teachers from each school complete training, and the teachers would be asked to return to their home schools to share what they learned.

“It’s like a gift,” Winn said. “We can give our teachers more support and have a coach there at the local school for them to have conversations with.”

Pleasant Valley Elementary School Principal Teresa Johnson said she’s seen first-hand the impact instructional coaches can make in a school.

“It helps us create a road map,” Johnson said, referring to lessons plans and instruction. She said the coaches help teachers determine develop instruction strategies based on test scores that they analyze together.

With help from coaches, Johnson and teachers at her school have been able to assess group and individual performance, she said. Together, educators can also analyze the data to track grade-level performance from year-to-year.

“You get a holistic picture,” Johnson said.

STI is a nationwide education company. It contracts with Alabama schools to provide an information system statewide. In Calhoun County the company also has a contract to provide professional development services, said Jenna Wood, director of marketing.

That instructional development, Wood said, includes the instructional coaches used by Calhoun County.

Since the $140,000 will be used to pay coaches, much of it will ultimately go to STI Achievement, the division of the company that provides imbedded professional development.

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.
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