Edgewood works to get past state’s label

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 12, 2004

The unmistakable sounds of vowels drifted through the hallways of Edgewood Elementary School early Friday morning as Principal Concetta Burton made her way to a second-grade classroom.

After opening the door to teacher Helen Edward’s classroom, the children’s voices became more distinct as they sounded out the letters.

“Class, tell us how to say our vowels,” Edwards told them.

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“Aaaaaa, Eeee, Iiiii, Oooo, Uuuuu,” a group of six students said in unison.

Across the room two boys sat at a separate table listening to a recorded story on headphones, while two other girls at nearby desks practiced writing the letter U.

Burton stood near the door frame and beamed with pride.

“There has been some negatives things said about Edgewood, but people don’t realize how hard we have been working,” she said.

Burton is referring to the “school in need of improvement” label placed on Edgewood last month by the State Department of Education.

Under the guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act, a Title 1-funded school that fails to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years is given the “school in need of improvement” status and activities must be created to help students meet the state’s academic achievement standards.

Burton said the status, based on annual yearly progress reports, is a little unfair and confusing.

“There is some concern that Alabama is not being measured by the same standards as other states,” Burton said. “Some schools may have five goals to achieve, while others, like Edgewood, have 13. Obviously those schools that only have five goals are going to meet those goals a lot sooner than we are.”

Dr. Verdell Lett Dawson, curriculum coordinator for the Selma City Schools System, said before the No Child Left Behind Act, Alabama’s academic achievement standards were based upon the scores of entire groups of children.

“Now the standards are based on the individual student. There has to be a certain percent of students on grade level,” Dawson said.

Dawson added that the state’s measurements of achievement are unclear and causing some confusion that is “still being sorted out.”

“The students at Edgewood are learning, performing well and making good grades,” she said. “The fifth-graders SAT scores were above the national average.”

Even more, Edgewood is ranked among the top 10 best performing schools in the Alabama Reading First Initiative.

One of the school’s reading coaches, Faith Egbert, was invited to demonstrate a vocabulary lesson for other teachers all across the nation during a Reading First Conference in Minneapolis.

The researched-based program works by requiring teachers to spend 90 minutes a day on reading instruction.

The class begins each day by working as a group on reading skills, then they are divided up into smaller groups to work on reading individually.

“The teacher spends about 30 minutes with each group,” Dawson said. “Students who need additional help get a double dose or triple dose of reading.”

Teachers end the reading session each day by bringing the class back together as a group.

Burton said her instructors are also provided with year-round professional development and have regular visits from reading coaches who offer new ideas.

“The ARFI is for students in kindergarten through third-grade, but we like to carry on the instruction through fifth-grade,” she said. “We have had tremendous gains in kindergarten, and some gain for first- and second-grade.”

The principal added that her goal is to have every kindergartner reading on grade level by third-grade.

“Based on last year’s standards, we had kindergartners reading on grade level by the end of the year,” Burton said.

“We are making sure all our students are where they need to be.”

Burton said the biggest challenge is getting parental and community involvement.

“We have parent libraries, where our parents can check out books and read to their kids,” she said. “Our missing link is involvement from parents, grandparents, retired teachers, and everyone from the community.”

Back in Edwards’ class, the second-graders were still working diligently on their vowels and doing their best to make the grade.

At the rate these students are succeeding, Burton feels confident the “school in need of improvement” will be a thing of the past.