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Economics of Student Success

Schools use Title I funds to target individual needs.

Eight Arlington elementary schools are undergoing improvement plans after failing to meet all of their federal annual measurable objectives (AMO) last year as required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

AMO results are based on Standards of Learning test scores and are the federal government’s method of ensuring continual improvement in schools. The eight schools that did not meet the AMO benchmarks — Randolph, Drew Model, Hoffman-Boston, Campbell, Carlin Springs, Barcroft, Barrett and Patrick Henry — all also receive Title I funding to aid in the instruction of students from economically poorer backgrounds.

In addition to these eight, the other schools that have lower scores [see accompanying maps] also tend to have a higher percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, and most of them are located in southern Arlington, where the schools tend to have a greater percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Constance Skelton said she did not find this data surprising. Skelton said that one of the reasons that economically disadvantaged students don’t tend to perform as well as others is because they don’t come from “print-rich” environments.

“They don’t have newspapers and magazines and books and things at home that give them the experience with print that they need that makes another child who’s been read to, watches mom and dad read … quicker to pick up some of the reading than children who haven’t had that experience.”

“… there’s no one slipping through, since everyone has to be looked at individually.” — Allegra Jabo, Co-president, Randolph Elementary Parent Teacher Association

Since at least 40 percent of students at each of these schools qualify for free or reduced lunch, the schools are eligible for the school-wide improvement plan.

According to Snyder, the school-wide process narrows in focus as it progresses, first evaluating the whole school, then the grade levels, then teachers within each grade level, and finally the students. Acceleration programs are then put in place for students who don’t meet benchmarks.

This approach also allows Title I teachers to help any student within the building.

“So, we find that it’s much more flexible and much more responsive to the needs of the schools.”

According to Donna Snyder, most of a school’s Title I funding goes toward hiring extra staff, particularly reading teachers, literacy coaches and math coaches.

Along with additional funding, Title I schools also have their progress monitored on a monthly basis to create student watch lists and provide interventions for students who aren’t meeting grade-level expectations. These interventions may include additional support in the classroom, instruction from another teacher trained in the problem subject, or having a student come in early or stay late for extra instruction.

Many of the Title I schools have also increased the amount of time students spend with language arts each day by about 30 minutes, weaving it in with science and social study instruction.

IN ADDITION to providing extra help directly to students, the county also reaches out to parents.

“Last year at Hoffman-Boston, we had about 150 different kinds of parent events to get parents to come into the school, be more engaged, help them with strategies they could do at home with their children,” Snyder said. “So, I think that we try to make sure that we’re addressing parent and child.”

Another challenge for teaching in southern Arlington is the number of English language learners. To help these children, the county uses the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol.

“One of the SIOP strategies is to help build background knowledge with students,” Skelton said, “so that when they encounter new vocabulary … they’ll have something to kind of put their knowledge on.”

Other components of the SIOP model include making sure teachers provide comprehensible input adjusting their speech and providing examples of good work, and promoting interaction among students within lessons.

While test scores can be affected by the difficulties of teaching students across different economic and cultural backgrounds, Co-president of the Randolph Elementary Parent Teacher Association Allegra Jabo said it’s precisely the fact that Randolph is host to such diversity that makes it a great school, despite it scoring lowest among the schools on this list.

She believes that because the student population is so diverse, teachers are forced to teach to the individual. She cited the time when her older daughter started first grade, and the teacher had come to her saying he had been debating whether to place Jabo’s daughter in the highest reading group or the next highest reading group.

He ended up placing her in the highest reading group in hopes of motivating her to perform even better, but he also said he wasn’t going to stop the progress of the other children in the group — a statement Jabo greatly appreciated.

“I really have felt, since I’ve been there, too, there’s no one slipping through, since everyone has to be looked at individually,” Jabo said.

Although neither of Jabo’s daughters could read when they started kindergarten, both now read above grade level. Her first grader reads a little beyond a second-grade level, and her third grader reads a little beyond a fifth-grade level.

A school’s AMO scores may be found in report cards in the Virginia Department of Education website’s “Statistics and Reports” section. Free and reduced lunch data may be found by visiting the APS site and following the “media resources” tab to the “student demographics” link.