Student performance trajectory is positive

The most upsetting argument against CH-UH’s Issue 81 is the claim that our schools are failing. This is frustrating because it ignores the obvious physical needs of our buildings, but also because it simply isn’t true. The schools are thriving. Our teachers are teaching and our students are learning.

Here’s the reality: Our district serves poor children. This isn’t an excuse, nor a shift of blame. I happen to be proud that we serve poor children and believe that fact should be celebrated. But, as research shows, children raised in poverty come to school less ready to learn, already behind their peers on the first day of kindergarten. They often have smaller vocabularies, shorter attention spans and few of the preliteracy skills required for learning to read and write. These problems continue throughout their educational careers, which are often disrupted by frequent moves in and out of schools and districts.

I am absolutely not saying that these children are unable to learn, but they are expensive to teach. Our district is teaching them. As part of an innovative transformational educational plan enacted by the administration several years ago, first- through fifth-graders are now ability-grouped for two-and-a-half hour language arts blocks. Class sizes range from five to 18 and include instruction by ELA specialists, who are experts in their field. Requiring additional teachers makes this expensive, but it is effective.

This year’s third-graders are the first to have experienced this plan since first grade, and we’re beginning to see the difference. Improvements on elementary test scores from this past year are noteworthy. Proficiency ratings on reading scores improved from the prior year among third-graders. Our district earned four A’s in the Value Added category, with reading improvements seen among all subgroups of students.

Touting that achievement is not an exercise in positive spin. Value Added is about student growth, the most important measurement of successful teaching and learning. Our schools added value to the academic performance of every subgroup of students. This is the greatest endorsement the district could possibly wish for.

Consider this scenario: A fourth-grader moves to CH-UH from another district, reading at a first-grade level. That child is placed in a small class with a specialist, to learn reading skills. Imagine he works extra hard, as does his teacher, and demonstrates one-and-a-half years of growth in that single year. That’s better than expected and means he, with the help of his teachers, moved from a first-grade reading level to halfway through a second-grade reading level. But when he takes the fourth-grade Ohio Achievement Test in reading, he will fail. And people will point to that to say our district is failing, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. The kind of growth that student demonstrated, as evidenced by CH-UH’s four A’s in Value Added, means one thing: the trajectory of student performance is positive.

The bar by which we judge students is constantly being raised. The material I taught to fourth-graders at Coventry a decade ago is the same material my son learned in second grade at Fairfax. Teachers are asked to teach more and students to learn more, and they are.

Is there room for improvement? Always! The necessary renovations of the schools will not magically make our students perform better on tests, nor reduce the number of district students who live in poverty. But it will give all the district’s students the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability, in environments that are healthy, comfortable, inspiring, and conducive to the best 21st-century models of teaching and learning.

I showed my fourth-grader a picture of the proposed high school and he said, “Wow, that looks like a college!” I don’t doubt that our district’s children will hold their heads a little higher walking into a physical space that shows that they’re valued. I value every one of CH-UH’s students, no matter their background or socio-economic class, no matter the actions of their parents or their test scores. I value them and I will demonstrate that by voting for Issue 81 on Nov. 5. Please join me.

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher 
Cleveland Heights
[Krissy Dietrich Gallagher served on the Lay Facilities Committee.]

Read More on Letters To The Editor
Volume 6, Issue 11, Posted 10:07 AM, 10.15.2013